After a roughly two-month hiatus, Jackson Hole Moose hockey games are back on.
The Moose suspended operations after the season opener back in early November as a COVID-19 outbreak throughout all levels of hockey forced the temporary closure of Snow King Sports and Events Center.
When games do come back — starting with a Jan. 29-30 series with the Denver Leafs — it’s going to look much different than the season opener did, when fan attendance was capped at 250.
Moose general manager Bob Carruth said Monday that Moose games will be adopting the attendance policy carried out by Jackson Hole Youth Hockey and Jackson Hole High School sports right now. Each player will be allowed to give two tickets out to whomever they chose, and Carruth said that policy will be enforced with security. No food or beverages will be sold during games either.
After the return weekend, Carruth said, his team will head to Phoenix for a weekend of games in early in February, before coming back home to take on Cleveland on Feb. 12 and 13.
“I want to wait for the vaccine to get ahead of us, especially at the health care level here in town,” Carruth said of the decision to return without fans. “Financially it just kills us but I’ve got these stallions in the barn ready to go.”
Moose hockey games are most notable for their atmosphere, with a regular year having packed stands and a sea around the boards each time out. That atmosphere is, in large part, what allows the Moose to draw such talent to their squad year in and year out.
And that’s no different this year. Carruth said first-year head coach Eric Ballard has possibly the most talented roster the Moose have ever had in their history.
The Moose are return staples of the offense with forwards AJ Sanders and Drew Akins, but up and down the lineup there are new faces eager to see the ice in a Moose sweater, including in goal as longtime starter Nick Krauss did not return this season.
“A big part of the reason they came to Jackson is not only the skiing and all that, but also because of Moose hockey,” Akins said. “For them not to play any games this year, I know [Carruth] is doing everything in his power to get us out on the ice playing.
“The guys are super pumped too. We’ll play in front of zero fans or 100 fans, whatever it takes.”
Both Akins and Carruth made note of the success the youth levels have had in getting their seasons in since taking that COVID-19 break back in November. All levels of Jackson Hole Youth Hockey are playing, though there are no tournaments and the travel remains in-state. For instance, Jackson might host a team from Gillette, but no other squad would be coming to town that weekend. The teams would play a series of games and then move on to the next one.
“They have done a phenomenal job,” Carruth said. “There are no tournaments, but they’ve done a great job making sure these kids can play hockey.”
The highlight of the season is always the Joe Casey Cup series between the Moose and rival Sun Valley. Carruth said he could see those sides doing a home-and-away series in mid-March over the course of two weekends, but he’s not getting ahead of himself yet. There are games set to be played — barring any changes to local health orders — into the middle of February. Nothing else is set in stone.
“I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself,” he said. “Printing tickets and spending money we don’t have right now.”