Although Hockey PEI’s return to play plan includes a doubling of cohort sizes from 50 to 100, this won’t apply for small rinks which lack the space for that many people to be physically distanced.
Vincenzo Trombetta, chair of the board for the Morell Credit Union rink, said the building only has room for 50 people to keep a proper distance.
With the canteen still closed and no government funding like there was last year, he’s concerned about the rink’s financial viability this season.
“We’re still having the same struggle,” he said.
After the recent COVID-19 outbreak at West Royalty Elementary School, Hockey PEI announced a suspension of activities for Charlottetown-area minor hockey associations and the provincial high performance program.
Mr Trombetta said he’s not particularly concerned about that because the rink doesn’t open for the season until mid-October. However, an outbreak in minor hockey would have serious consequences.
“Minor hockey is a huge income earner for the rink. They rent probably 50 to 60% of the ice time so shutting it down (would) make it hard.”
Other differences from last season in the Hockey PEI plan, released Thursday, are in line with policy changes from the Chief Public Health Office. Spectators are not required to wear masks and teams are allowed to host tournaments and attend off-Island events.
On Friday, prior to the outbreak, the president of the Montague Minor Hockey Association said he was optimistic for a safe, successful season.
Tyler Hayes said he didn’t expect major changes because there was no spread of the virus in Island rinks under last year’s rules.
“It was manageable last year and I really think we’re set up well to have a great season,” he said.
Mr Hayes said the return of tournaments would be huge for the players and will give them more of a sense of normalcy. A lot of team bonding happens on road trips and teams at higher levels will be able to play more competitive hockey against mainland teams, he said.
In fact, Montague minor hockey is working with Hockey PEI to get a five-year sanction for the annual Montague Norsemen tournament in January instead of having to seek it every year.
“We’re really excited to get that back on track this year,” said Mr Hayes, who became president of Montague minor hockey at its most recent annual general meeting after spending several years on the board.
As of last week, there had been a significant increase in minor hockey registrations from past years for Montague.
Aaron Bedour, manager of the Eastern Kings Sportsplex in Souris, said on Friday he also feels things will be easier this year because everyone knows what to expect. The increase in cohort size will also help because entry to the arena won’t be as staggered as last year.
“I think by the end of last year, everybody was in the swing of things and it’s just a continuation.”
Mr Bedour said parents have to understand the guidelines are set by the Chief Public Health Office and volunteers are simply following those measures to keep everybody safe.
Masks remain mandatory for players, coaches and officials while entering, exiting, moving through the building and in the dressing room. Coaches and officials must continue to wear masks on the player’s bench and in the timekeeper’s box, respectively.
Players, parents and coaches will still be required to leave the rink as soon as possible after their ice time, before the next group enters.
Other requirements still in place include physical distancing, no spitting, individual water bottles and arena operational plans to be submitted before the season.
Meanwhile, Mr Hayes said rink volunteers took a lot of verbal abuse last season over COVID requirements, particularly the need for contact tracing. While vaccinations are strongly recommended by Hockey Canada, they are not mandated and he said he wouldn’t want volunteers to have to deal with that.
“Contact tracing has to happen. That’s not a paid position 99% of the time, that’s parents. There weren’t too many games that went by where there wasn’t some sort of issue.”
Sometimes there were eye rolls, but other times it was outright abusive with cursing or insults, he said.
“Rather than criticism being directed at the proper channels, it ends up being directed to volunteers. That really didn’t sit well with me,” Mr Hayes said. “I want people to remember it’s primarily a volunteer-driven sport for kids.”