Junior hockey is back and no one is happier than the coaches and players of area teams.

“The players are happy and that’s the important thing,” said Vankleek Hill Cougars Head Coach Franky Dopelhamer.

The Cougars will get back to regular season games this Saturday, February 5, against the North Dundas Rockets, in a game that starts at 7 p.m. at the Vankleek Hill Arena. Prior to the contest, the team will honor the people responsible for forming the Vankleek Hill Cougars, with a special pre-game opening ceremony and face-off as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations. The ceremony will also pay tribute to all of the volunteers who helped put the team together 30 years ago.

The Cougars head coach said capacity restrictions imposed under Ontario’s COVID-19 public health regulations will have no effect on most of the Junior C teams in the National Capital Junior Hockey League (NCJHL).

“It won’t affect our league,” said Dopelhamer, noting that 50 per cent capacity at the Vankleek Hill Arena is still well over 200 fans.

Hawkesbury Hawks Junior A Head Coach Rick Dorval, whose team is scheduled to return to action in a road game against the Ottawa Junior Senators on Wednesday, February 2, is also excited about the Central Canada Hockey League’s (CCHL) return to play.

“Very happy, but it’s been really busy getting ready,” said Dorval, noting there is a lot work to do to prepare to play games again.

The Hawks will play their first home game back at the Robert Hartley Sports Complex against the Cornwall Colts on Friday, February 4, and Dorval said players will be pumped up to play in front of the team’s fans.

Unlike the Junior C NCJHL, which will play a modified schedule with less games, teams in the Junior A CCHL will play a full 55-game schedule – with matches scheduled closer together to allow the league to get in all the games before the playoffs. Dorval said he does not expect the compressed schedule to be an issue for the young players in Junior hockey.

“The boys missed a whole year last year of hockey, they’ve missed the last month and a bit,” Dorval pointed out. “They’re very excited to play.”

“We have to practice a little bit less to compensate for the fatigue and we will do so. But I think we’ll be just fine.”

The Hawks have played more games than several other teams in the CCHL and only have 27 games left in their 2021-2022 season, while some other teams have as many as 31 games left.

“There’s other teams in a worse situation than us,” Dorval observed. “We’re healthy – which is great – and if a player needs a breather we’ll have the extra bodies to be able to accommodate it.”