4 hockey teams move after Saskatoon rink turned into coronavirus field hospital

The Saskatoon Blades have some company at SaskTel Centre after four teams were displaced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brenden Purdy / Global News

Albeit without competitive gameplay or fans, hockey has returned to SaskTel Centre after a six-month hiatus due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The venue’s executive director, Scott Ford, said the last indoor events they held before the COVID-19 shutdown were a Western Hockey League (WHL) game on March 6 and a National Lacrosse League (NLL) match on March 7.

Read more: Saskatchewan Huskies look for new home ice as arena identified as possible COVID-19 field hospital

“It’s been hard … large gatherings is sort of our business.  We’re in the live entertainment business, sports and entertainment business and the first ones to be shut down are the large gathering venues and the last ones to open are going to be large gathering venues,” Ford said.

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“(The pandemic) has affected us. We haven’t been able to host any events other than some of the parking lot activities … but we haven’t been able to open our doors to the public and host live events yet and hopefully we can soon because we need to get back to business sooner than later.

“We’re optimistic that we can get back to business next year … we had a lot of events that were postponed in 2020 that have been rescheduled for 2021 and we’re hopeful that things will improve and we’ll be able to host those events in 2021.”

In the meantime, both the men’s and women’s Saskatchewan Huskies hockey teams, with U Sports, as well as the SMAAAHL’s Saskatoon Contacts and thee Saskatoon Stars, of the SFMAAAHL, are coming over temporarily from Merlis Belscher Place.

“Merlis Belscher Place has been converted into a field hospital for a potential second wave of the pandemic and COVID-19, so with that there’s been a number of teams that were playing out Merlis Belscher Place and they have approached us and we’re going to be hosting those teams in SaskTel Centre,” Ford said.

“Again, everybody’s waiting on just Saskatchewan Health Authority and the rules and regulations that are going to involve getting back to hosting and having events with fans at it. So that’s a process that everybody’s waiting on and the government is working on with the teams.

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“But right now, we will be having five hockey teams playing out of the building.”

Read more: New pack leader sought for Saskatchewan Huskies

While SaskTel Centre has been home to the Saskatoon Blades for decades, it was the Contacts players who got to test the ice first on Monday afternoon – the first skate since March.

“It was awesome, actually. I didn’t know that we were the first but I kind of thought we might be just based on how fresh everything was in the building and how almost new it was to the staff,” Contacts head coach Dale Lambert said on Tuesday.

“So everybody has to get used to doing hockey things again.

“I think our kids were a little excited to get out there, maybe a little overly excited because they probably hit the ice before the staff was ready for us … I think we got on about 15 minutes too early but that was the boys being eager and, obviously, we won’t do that again.

“It’s been an uncertain summer being displaced from Merlis Belscher. Our ice time has been limited to this point and everything has been unofficial. So (Monday) was the move-in day at the SaskTel Centre and our first practice and were officially underway. It was a good day.”

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With home ice secured, Lambert said the situation surrounding the 2020-2021 hockey season is still fluid.

“I think a lot of it depends on how the back-to-school goes and a lot of it depends on the (WHL) situation. We haven’t had any information on scheduling. The most recent news that I had heard is that possibly we might be able to play exhibition games mid- to late-October and maybe be able to play regular (season) games at the beginning of November.

“We can’t really make the schedule until the (WHL) makes theirs because there’s a lot of teams in our league that share buildings … it’s just a wait-and-see thing so we’re going to practice.”

Read more: Coronavirus: WHL planning to start next season Dec. 4

Ford noted the rink also hosts the SaskTel Centre Hockey League, which has around 24 adult teams and is expected to start at the end of September.

“Certainly, we’ll have a lot of hockey in the building and it’s a unique time for us … for family shows and concerts, with basically pandemic conditions that you can’t have large gatherings, so at this time we’re going to have lots of ice available to service those teams,” Ford said.

“We’re following all of the provincial (pandemic) guidelines with regards to basically managing how the number of people on the ice … and those (teams) have been great in working with us to meet all of those requirements.”

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SaskTel Centre is also home to the NLL’s Saskatchewan Rush and Canadian Elite Basketball League’s Saskatchewan Rattlers.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.

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