Even in the dead of summer, hockey is never far from the heart in Canada.
When the COVID-19 pandemic took minor hockey players off the ice in mid-March, a return to play scenario wasn’t always a foregone conclusion.
There was some certainty reignited into the minor hockey world this week, as on Tuesday, Hockey Alberta released a detailed Return to Play plan outlining some of the steps that need to happen before players can hit the ice.
Ahead of that guidance, ice had been installed at the Penhold Multiplex and players in small groups got back to the rink Thursday. The Collicutt Centre is expected to open Monday for hockey activities.
Red Deer Minor Hockey Commission General Manager Dallas Gaume said that’s all encouraging and hopes to see more players back training soon.
“The rinks are all opening up on time… the local skill development people are run camps, so people are getting back on the ice and this is heading in the right direction,” he said.
Gaume explained that he hopes they can make a more informed decision about the minor hockey season come August, but with information changing daily, they haven’t looked too far ahead. He added they are ready to run groups of similarly skilled players to get kids prepared if tryouts do get pushed back in August or September.
“We know there’s going to be hockey in the fall. These kids are going to be on the ice. There’s going to be fun. There’s going to be development. When hockey returns to 5-on-5, nobody knows that,” he said.
“We’ll have kids on the ice training and working on their skill and working on their development, but the rest is up in the air.”
In the document Hockey Alberta released Tuesday, it provided information on types of hockey activities that can be offered with physical distancing or cohorting; requirements for organizations in determining who is eligible to participate; estimated timelines for each component (off-season skill development, developmental season and regular season) as well as travel and other limitations.
June 1 to Aug. 31 represents the off-season skill development, while development season won’t start until at least Aug. 1, limiting non-essential travel and only include players from the established registration area.
Players can be grouped by skills or age group and must practice physical distancing. There can be regional gameplay (3-on-3, 4-on-4), skills sessions and on-ice practices.
As part of the return to play plan, spectators much be kept out of the field of play, practice proper social distancing and no more than 100 people can be in attendance. Cheering and yelling are also strongly discouraged, as it creates a high risk of spread viral droplets.
“It is important for our members and families to know that there is a plan for hockey in Alberta for the coming season. Our players will be able to have fun, socialize with teammates and peers, and enjoy positive experiences in our game,” said Rob Litwinski, CEO of Hockey Alberta.
“The plan includes options to group players according to skill levels and engage in competition as they continue to develop their skills in preparation for returning to regular season play.”
The regular season start date is still to be determined. Gaume said they’re in no rush to make a decision on the season, but wanted to reassure hockey parents that kids will still be able to play in some capacity this fall.
“There’s going to be development and the kids are going to have fun, we just don’t know what it quite all looks like yet,” he said.