There is absolutely no guarantee that NOJHL (Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League) teams will have the chance to close out the 2020-2021 campaign with games in this new year - though the odds still appear good.
That said, Rayside-Balfour Canadians' general manager Jeff Forsyth is preparing, just in case, all while keeping an eye on the future.
That approach was front and centre in the team's acquisition, earlier this week, of defenceman Chris Innes, a 17 year old 2003-born prospect who was previously skating with the Timmins Rock.
In surrendering a developmental fee, the Canadians add a 6'1" blueliner with whom both Forsyth and local AAA hockey fans are well acquainted, as Innes spent the bulk of his minor hockey career in the Sudbury area.
The 12th round selection in the 2019 OHL U16 Priority Draft of the Sarnia Sting recorded 25 points in 31 games last year with the Sudbury Nickel Capital Wolves after enjoying a short but successful stint the previous season as a call-up from the highly successful Sudbury Minor Midget AAA Wolves.
"Chris was a guy on our list that we had prioritized to try and bring in earlier this season, but it just didn't happen," noted Forsyth. "When he did become available, he was a guy that I didn't wait to jump on. He is a high level skater, an elite skater. He has great feet, he makes a good first pass and will continue to grow and develop."
He also brings the total number of rearguards on the Rayside-Balfour roster to eight, joining Joel Mongeon, Avery Chisholm, Wilson Farrow, Michael Campbell, Carter Geoffroy, Graeme Siren and Robert Brisson, though Siren, most notably, has seen time both at forward and on the blueline, this year as well as in the past.
"As far as moving into a D corps where we have a bit of a logjam there, Chris is going to push everybody to be better," said Forsyth. Innes also carries some versatility, having generally suited up as a forward prior to hitting bantam and midget hockey. At this point, however, his focus is fixated on the back end.
"First and foremost, he wants to be a defenceman and we have to respect that," said Forsyth. "We think that he can be a very good defenceman in this league and hopefully develop his career in getting a shot at the OHL."
While no one is 100% sure of what the tail-end of 2020-2021 might look like, Forsyth is adament that at least to some extent, it is business as usual in his role as the man looking to mould a championship caliber NOJHL squad.
"From our point of view right now, if there is an opportunity to make our team better for the future, we're going to look at that as an opportunity to better our club," he stated. "Regardless of the type of season that we are in, we have to make ourselves more competitive, not only for the remainder of this season, but into the 2021-2022 season and beyond."
Forsyth would go on to note that while too much depth might appear problematic at the moment, things can change quickly if the OHL reconvenes in the next month or two.
"That is a major question mark for us right now. If it does happen, we stand to lose a few bodies."
In the meantime, other than the addition of Innes, it will be the same group of players that are expected to hit the ice for practice this coming weekend, if allowed, that last went toe to toe with the Blind River Beavers in a four-game mini-series in December.
That in-game lineup has not yet included veteran forward Mathieu Dokis-Dupuis, as the 20 year who sat third in team scoring last year with 52 points in 50 games contemplates his future in the game.
"Matty is a kid that I have a lot of respect for and a lot of time for," said Forsyth. "We want to provide him with as much time as we can to make that decision. If there is an opportunity for him to close out his junior career here in Rayside, I would love to see that happen."