With coronavirus case numbers on the rise in Saskatchewan, it’s a nervous time for local minor hockey officials as they wonder if they’ll be able to keep their teams on the ice.
The Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association is doing all it can to avoid a shutdown, but president Kelly Boes says it’s a delicate balancing act.
“People have adapted excellently (to the new protocols). I’d say it’s been very good. The issue is that we almost have to be perfect to do this to make it work for the whole season,” he said.
It took months of careful planning for the SMHA to get its 300-plus teams back on the ice safely this fall. In addition to implementing a host of new safety measures designed to minimize the risk of an outbreak within the minor hockey community, the association also has designated COVID-19 reps in each of its zones and on each team within those zones.
Boes hopes the provincial government will take that into account before making any decisions on hockey activity in the days and weeks ahead.
“Every time that (chief medical health officer) Dr. Shahab and (Premier) Scott Moe announce a press conference to talk about COVID, there’s always lots of nervous hockey parents around,” he said.
“I’m excited to hear about them consulting with the athletic organizations, so that’s very refreshing to hear that rather than just making the assumption and cutting things at the knees, talking to the people involved and finding out maybe there’s ways we can do further things to mitigate issues and maybe the game will look a little different in the second half of the year but the kids will still be playing and I think that’s really the goal here.”
There are similar hopes just north of Saskatoon in Martensville, however that city’s minor hockey association decided this week to go a different route, pausing play until the end of the month.
“Based on what we know the most responsible thing that we can do is put it on hold for a couple of weeks with the intention that we can get back to playing December first,” MMHA president Trevor Hanley said.
Hanley says there was no specific incident or outbreak that led to the decision. The association simply wanted to err on the side of caution.
“If we pause for a couple of weeks and we realize a week or 10 days into it that we really didn’t need to do that, things are maybe moving in the right direction and we were maybe a little bit too cautious, that’s a lot easier decision to live with than ‘we should have paused earlier,'” he said.
The different approaches in Saskatoon and Martensville highlight the complexities of playing hockey during a pandemic and Hanley stresses that what’s right for his community does not mean others are wrong to keep playing.
“The fact that Saskatoon, Warman, Dalmeny, all those communities right around Martensville are still able to play, I think is awesome. I don’t want to say that we’re doing something better, it’s just this is what was right for our association right now,” he said.
This is likely not the last time local hockey associations will grapple with the “to play or not to play” dilemma but no matter how they move forward, they share the same goal: for kids to have fun and stay safe.
“It’s been a long year, it’s tiring, but it’s all about trying to keep kids playing. We’ve seen the smiles on kids’ faces playing the game again, so that’s really what keeps you motivated is to try to keep the game going as long as possible for the kids,” Boes said.