NORTH AMERICAN HOCKEY LEAGUE: Holiday gives players a chance to head home

This past week, most players for the Odessa Jackalopes were able to go home and see their families for the first time in months.

The bye-week in the schedule this year allows the players to spend the holidays with their friends and family members before reporting back to resume the season against Shreveport on Dec. 31.

While it goes with the territory to be away from home for long periods of time at the junior hockey level, this year has been chaotic because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For some members of the Jackalopes, being away from home during a pandemic might not seem easy but at the same time, they’re happy to still be able to play hockey and have a season.

“During these times, it’s special that we’re able to play because we’re seeing a bunch of other teams that are sitting on the sidelines right now because of their current situation with the coronavirus,” Alex Konovalov said. “But at the junior hockey level, it’s cool how you have guys from all over North America and Europe come together to try and achieve a goal and I’m fortunate enough to make some new friends and new memories.”

Konovalov is planning to spend the holidays with his family back home in Basking Ridge, N.J and is looking forward to the snowy conditions up north.

“I’m planning on going home to see my family and I’m excited to see some snow for a change,” Konovalov said. “I really miss wearing winter boots.

“It’ll be nice to have a climate change before coming back and regrouping.”

He’s looking to make the most of his time home before returning to West Texas as this will be the first time he’s seen his family since August.

“I miss my parents and my brothers and my friends,” Konovalov said. “I also miss having a home-cooked meal. But I’m stoked to get back out there and see my friends and family again.”

Konovalov has one goal for the Jackalopes this season through 12 games, an overtime winner against North American Hockey League South Division leader Lone Star on Dec. 17 at Ector County Coliseum.

Being away from home hasn’t been too much of a burden, even with the pandemic for some players including Jacob Badal who hails from Flushing, Mich.

“It’s not too bad,” Badal said. ‘My parents came to visit me once and it was nice to see them. But I’m here to play hockey and it’s what I love to do. It’s good to be away.”

For Badal and the rest of his teammates, staying busy by playing hockey helps cure the homesickness.

“Really, you don’t notice it too much,” said Badal, who has five goals this season. Badal said. “Then, when it comes time to fly back, once you’re home, you want to get back to the grind and get back with the boys.”

Through 14 games, Odessa sits at 6-6-2 and in third place with 14 points in the South Division.

Lone Star is the only other team in the division that has played more games than the Jackalopes with 19 so far. The Brahmas sit in first place at 14-4-1 with 29 points.

The Jackalopes have had two weekend series postponed due to COVID-19 this season which included their opening series against New Mexico in October and a November road series in Wichita Falls.

However, compare that to other teams around the league and the Jackalopes are slightly more fortunate.

The Minnesota Wilderness, which plays in the Central Division has only managed three games so far this season

In the Midwest Division, Kenai River, Chippewa and Fairbanks have each played only three times this season.

“Games are getting canceled or rescheduled (around the league),” Konovalov said. “I think we’ve done a good job here in Odessa of following protocol and following social distance measures.”

Jackalopes coach Jason Fortier knows it’s the same for everyone around the league and like his players, he too can only feel satisfied that the Jackalopes have been able to play a decent number of games on their schedule.

“The good thing is that we’re still able to come to the rink and hang out with our best friends,” Fortier said. “We’re getting a chance to play hockey. There are a bunch of people who aren’t so lucky and we’re pretty fortunate.”

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