Although he’s endured a kind of prison sentence in the basement of his Surrey home, Caleb Reimer can be considered one of the lucky ones.
The six-foot-three centre is quarantined for a week in preparation for his trip to Edmonton and the delayed start of the Western Hockey League (WHL) season.
Health authorities in Alberta have allowed the province’s five WHL teams to start their Central Division season on Feb. 26, following many months of COVID-caused shutdown.
Reimer is headed to Oil Kings training camp nearly two years after the franchise made him the first Surrey-area player selected in WHL Bantam Draft in the spring of 2019, in the first round, 18th overall.
But first, the league-mandated quarantine period for him and other players.
“I’m not allowed to leave my basement,” Reimer, 16, said Monday (Feb. 1). “I’ve got my bed here and my PlayStation, and that’s it.
“My Mom knocks on the door every couple hours with snacks or lunch, some food,” he added with a laugh. “I have five days left, because I leave on Sunday (Feb. 7). It hasn’t been bad, actually, just pretty funny. I’m trying to keep busy.”
Upon arrival in Edmonton, Reimer and the others will undergo COVID-19 testing followed by an additional quarantine period. At the earliest, pre-season on-ice training will start Feb. 12 for the Oil Kings, Red Deer Rebels, Lethbridge Hurricanes, Medicine Hat Tigers and Calgary Hitmen.
Alberta’s WHL teams will play a 24-game schedule, with games against just one opponent per week and a five-day break before playing another team. All games will be played on weekends, with home-and-home games only and no fans allowed in arenas.
No such return-to-play plan is in place for WHL teams in some other regions, including those in B.C.
“It’s amazing, and we’re very fortunate,” said Reimer, who previously played minor hockey in Cloverdale. “The other divisions haven’t been given the green light, so it’s fortunate to be in the Central Division, and I’m super excited to get playing games again, even though it’s about a month until those (games) happen.”
On Friday (Feb. 5), the WHL said teams in the U.S. Division will begin their 2020-21 season on March 19, in line with updated COVID-19 protocols in Washington State. The move allows Everett Silvertips, Portland Winterhawks, Seattle Thunderbirds, Spokane Chiefs and Tri-City Americans to play division-only games.
Since September, Reimer has skated with Delta Hockey Academy’s U18 Prep squad alongside some other WHL-bound players. They include North Deltan Easton Kovacs, a defenseman and fellow 2004-born player who also quarantined at home for his shot to play for Lethbridge Hurricanes.
Their DHA team has been in practice-only mode since they played a handful of games last fall, when COVID protocols allowed for such on-ice action.
“The whole academy and the coaches, they’ve kept it interesting for the players with different focuses for practices and some game-oriented drills,” Reimer said. “It’s still competitive but not the same as playing against another team, going on road trips and coming up with game plans, all that. It’s been different but it’s also been good, they’ve done a good job there.”
At camp in Edmonton, Reimer will be joined by fellow Surrey-raised player Carson Latimer, who in December of 2019 scored on his very shift in the WHL, just a few seconds after hitting the ice in his first game with the Oil Kings.
“We’re pretty good friends, and played a lot of games together,” Reimer said of Latimer, a former DHA teammate and Semiamoo product who scored 12 points with Port Moody Panthers after signing with the PJHL team last August, at a time when the Oil Kings were in limbo. “He’s super nice, and it’ll be good to see him again.”
Big, and willing to play the power-forward game, Reimer has worked on his skating in recent seasons, and has also put on some weight.
“I’ve always been one of the tallest kids, but haven’t grown much since the start of summer,” Reimer noted. “I’m happy where I am. I’m starting to get a lot faster, more comfortable in my body – that’s been the biggest thing. I haven’t been very comfortable in my body the last couple of years because I was just shooting up (in height).”
Last July, Reimer was among 113 players invited to Hockey Canada’s virtual national under-17 development camp, along with North Delta’s Niall Crocker, a Prince Albert Raiders draft pick who has also skated with DHA’s U18 Prep team this winter.
While quarantining at home and waiting for their WHL season to start, Reimer and the other Oil Kings players have kept busy with daily online sessions.
“There’s four or five groups of us,” he reported. “Every morning, someone takes on the news, the weather, the sports, a little news section that’s been prepared with the group the night before, then a workout after that, mostly cardio and pushups, planks, lunges, that sort of thing. Later on at night, the guys get together on Zoom for sort of a team activity – playing video games or poker or just something to keep us busy.”
In a news release posted Jan. 28, WHL officials said they continue to work with government and health authorities in each provincial and state jurisdiction to establish a start date for the WHL’s East Division, B.C. Division and U.S. Division. “Approval from the health authorities is required in each jurisdiction for the balance of the WHL Divisions to return to play,” the league said.