Even though Salvatore Collora has been playing hockey since he was around 4 years old, this most recent season was unlike any he'd ever experienced.
While the season for the Western Hockey League (WHL) was delayed because of the pandemic, the 18-year-old was able to complete his degree from Woodinville High School.
The WHL is part of the Canadian Hockey League, which is the highest level of junior hockey in Canada.
But in early February when it came time to travel to Alberta, Canada to play for the major junior team, the Lethbridge Hurricanes, things got stressful. On his journey, he was initially stopped at the border and denied entry because of new restrictions under the pandemic.
"As parents of a kid, it was pretty stressful because you had no idea where he's going to be," said his father, Salvatore Collora Sr.
Eventually, the situation was sorted, and Collora was allowed into the country, where he began his mandatory 14-day quarantine in the team-provided apartment. He'd also been required to quarantine before even starting his trip, so by the end, it had been a while since he'd been on the ice.
"It took a little bit to get back into shape,"Collora said.
He is the only member of the Hurricanes who isn't either Canadian or has dual citizenship. Thus, he was the only one who had to follow as strict of protocols for traveling there. He said he began practices by skating individually for conditioning, and he was rather thankful when games finally began.
"It was a lot more enjoyable, because you weren't getting skated every day," he said.
The season was much shorter than normal, with 24 games instead of the usual schedule with more than 60, and it was compressed into three months.
To make the season even more memorable, Collora scored his first goal for the Hurricanes on April 12 in a match-up against the Red Deer Rebels.
"It was a kind of a monkey-off-the-back type of thing," Collora said of the goal. "It's nice to get it and kind of feel relieved. You don't have that pressure to try and get your first anymore."
Now that he has graduated from high school, Collora is hoping to continue to play with the team and beyond.
Players are eligible to play in the major junior league until age 20. Collora has his sights set on the National Hockey League, so he is hoping to continue playing for the league while taking some classes, but the main focus would still be the sport.
"Every kid that's playing in this league wants to play professional hockey," he said. "I think it's a matter of, you play until you realize that you don't have anywhere else to play. The NHL is a difficult league to get into."
His parents are supportive of Collora's decision to keep playing in the league, and are happy to see that his hard work as gotten him where he is.
It took hours of practice, hard work and driving long distances to rinks, said his mother Amy Collora.
"He can really focus on doing what he loves," she said.
After he turns 20, he said, he'll decide whether he can continue to pursue a professional career or if he'll go to college.
"For right now, I want to play pro," he said, "and it's always been that."