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Rebels taking camp to Erie

Times Observer File Photo by Matt Spielman Head coach Joe Coombs and the Jamestown Rebels are preparing for their third season at Northwest Arena.

The Jamestown Rebels hope to start getting back to normal today.

How realistic is that? It’s anybody’s guess.

Jamestown’s Main Camp will begin today at noon — in Erie, Pennsylvania.

“It is what it is. We’re all fighting through it,” Rebels head coach Joe Coombs said Saturday afternoon. “There are a lot of teams still having predraft camps, but we’re just going right into our main camp. It’s tough even having it.”

Northwest Arena is unavailable to the Rebels at this time due to restrictions put in place by the New York state government during the coronavirus pandemic so the Rebels 2020-21 season will kick off at Erie Bank Sports Park.

Times Observer File Photo by Matt Spielman Valentino Passarelli won’t participate in this week’s camp, but will look to fill a bigger role this season for the Rebels.

“We wanted to have our camp and a couple of weeks ago when we were moving locations, Pennsylvania was open so we said ‘Why not?’,” Coombs said. “We were scheduled for Jamestown and we were meeting with the building every week to see if we could work something out. We couldn’t figure anything out to make it work for both of us.”

Check-in starts at noon with a players-only meeting to follow at 1 p.m. After a 2 p.m. goalie session, four scrimmages will take place every hour from 3 p.m. through 6 p.m.

“We’ll do everything we can to respect the process and social distancing,” Coombs said. “Erie makes the most sense for us because it’s as close to Jamestown as possible if kids want to drive to see the town.”

On Tuesday, eight scrimmages will take place every 90 minutes from 9 a.m. through 7:30 p.m. Wednesday morning will be the final four full-camp scrimmages every 60 minutes from 10 a.m. through 1 p.m. After the first round of roster cuts, two more intrasquad games will take place at 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

“I’m excited to get back to work and see some hockey,” Coombs said.

The camp will wrap up Thursday morning with a Red All-Stars vs. Blue All-Stars game at 9:30 a.m.

Things will look a little different than in years past. Players are asked to only be in the arena for their scheduled games. If players wish to talk to a coach after their scrimmages, they are asked to call or text the coach to speak in a different setting or over the phone.

“Players aren’t going to be allowed in the rink until 20 minutes before their games,” Coombs said. “They aren’t allowed to shower at the rink and there will be two locker rooms per team to allow for social distancing. That’s what they ask for.”

The Rebels have 19 players age-eligible to return from last year’s team, which went 21-30-1-2 before COVID-19 canceled the final few weekends of the season and the Robertson Cup playoffs.

“We get an awful lot back. … Some guys have to come here and be way better than they way they finished,” Coombs said. “There are a lot of pieces here that we really like.”

Border restrictions between the United States and Canada as well as Europe have made it difficult for the Rebels to get all of their players to Erie for this weekend’s camp. The organization has also had a few players test positive for the virus in the past couple of months.

“The border is closed and there are eight or nine guys who we think will be on our team who can’t be with us this weekend,” Coombs said. “In a normal year, we could be reloading for a championship team. … With what’s going on in the world, drafting a really good player who we can’t get because of COVID-19 is a real possibility.”

Following this weekend is the NAHL Entry Draft on July 21. According to the NAHL, teams utilize a mix of in-season evaluation along with team tryouts and the NAHL Combine to select players in the draft. Prior to the draft, teams will turn in their protected list of tenders and veterans in order to determine the number of picks they have in the draft.

“Everybody just needs to make another step. We need to add three or four forwards and we need a powerplay defenseman,” Coombs said. “We’ve recruited some very good goalies. Do we feel like we have Dominik Hasek coming in? No … but we feel like we have some really good ones.”

Coombs is also excited, but uncertain, about the upcoming draft for other reasons.

“We are wondering what direction to go with that. Can American kids go play hockey in Canada or at college?,” Coombs pondered. “There are 200 or 300 kids who might want to play in Canada, but can’t … or college kids who can’t go to school. … There are so many open-ended questions.”

After Jamestown finalizes a team this weekend and after the draft, the hope is the Rebels will return to Northwest Arena for preseason training camp near the end of August with the hope of opening the season on time.

“I know our plan is to start on time. Will that happen? I think it will because the NAHL’s geography … is in some of the states where things are pretty normal,” Coombs said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we started on time.

“We’re going to pick a team and we’ll pick a date to report,” Coombs added. “We have to be ready to go when they say go.”

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