Minor Hockey in a Covid World

As we approach 2021 there is so much uncertainty in our day-to-day lives. The year 2020 saw a worldwide pandemic impact the entire globe. Terms such as “new normal” and “social distancing” hit the mainstream. The world has got itself into one big mess. While I could get into my thoughts about the Covid-19 pandemic, this is a hockey blog and I wanted to share my observations about the impact COVID has had on our hockey lives.

The Impact of a Global Pandemic on Minor Hockey

No matter what your beliefs are on the Covid-19 situation, we should acknowledge that it is a new virus strain. That is a fact. Whether we need to shut down our lockdown our town, city or county can be debated all day long. Living in Canada, we were quick to “lockdown” and “self isolate” as the pandemic started to spread. As a sports family this meant an immediate pause to team sports. Luckily for us, our minor hockey season had just wrapped up. As a family we had decided that we were not going to play Spring hockey this year, instead opting for baseball. However due to social distancing measures, the spring baseball season was put on hold as well.

Like many, we spent six plus weeks in our “bubble” and while we kept active by riding bikes, going for walks and hiking around our neighborhood, we quickly grew restless. As Spring moved into summer and businesses began to re-open in this “new normal”, no one we knew had contacted the coronavirus. We did not learn of any member of our families or friends who had contacted the virus. Strange times for sure. As summer rolled around there was word of some venues re-opening include hockey rinks in the Okanagan. With hockey season approaching I wondered what this would mean for my son as we had pre-scheduled him in a couple of hockey camps. The NHL was still finalizing its return to play plan and the thought of playing minor hockey in the fall seemed so far away. We had already registered for minor hockey in the fall, but their seemed to be a lot of uncertainty on what hockey would look like at the minor hockey level.

Of course, how our minor hockey association works is that you have to register for the upcoming season (and pay in advance) by late-June, early-July to secure your spot. What was different about this season was that there was a ton of uncertainty around if there would even be any minor hockey in the fall. If there was, would there be any games? Tournaments?Hockey Canada had not yet announced their “return to play” plan.

You can imagine the frustration that hockey parents began to feel with all of the uncertainty that we were facing.

  • we are expected to register our kids not knowing if there will be any games or even if arenas would be open
  • for some, we needed to purchase new equipment not knowing if it would be used this season
  • we could not get on the ice to prepare for tryouts and the selection process

You can see how one can get frustrated right? Now I’m not sure about your town or hockey bubble but I know with ours, there are a few coaches and parents who like to get together in late summer to discuss the upcoming season. These folks meet for beverages and often discuss their “thoughts” and “plans” for the season. The unfortunate part is that in some cases, it’s obvious that some of these folks have the ability to influence our minor hockey association right or wrong. They have their feelings on the selection process, they conduct their “mock-drafts” and whom they want playing with whom. It seems to happen every year.

This year as we got closer to the start of minor hockey season, a decision was made by our local association to keep parents out of the rink during the tryouts and selection process. Now this might be a good thing you might think, but it can also create frustration for some parents. You see as we all know, hockey is an expensive sport. You pay your registration fees, you pay your tryout fees (yet as a parent you cannot attend the tryout skates), you pay carding fees (where does that money go anyway?), you pay your team fees. In a normal season you have travel, hotel expenses, dining expenses etc during roadtrips… you get the point, playing minor hockey has a steep price tag associated. But you want your son or daughter to play hockey, so you go through the motions year in and year out.

For myself as a hockey-dad and as a real fan of the game of hockey, the whole “business of hockey” will always be frustrating. I can probably count on one hand, the number of times I have missed my son’s practice. I don’t believe that I have EVER missed one if his games. Nothing puts a smile on my face than watching my son play hockey, or baseball, or compete in any sport. For me, watching him play hockey is a true joy.

Except this year the various powers that be have taken this joy away. Our association and our community has implemented the following:

  • closed-door tryouts
  • initially one-parent only could attend practices
  • no parents can attend games (if there were any games)
  • no parents allowed in the arena for practices (unless you are coaching, doing the score clock, are a team manager, are filming the game or are a COVID ambassador (yes that’s a thing) for your team).

So with all due respect to the fact that minor league sports are obviously for the benefit of our children, in West Kelowna, parents are not allowed in rinks and arenas and cannot watch our children play the great game of hockey. This is a direct impact of COVID on minor hockey. I’ve mentioned this (the fact we cannot attend practices) to friends of mine all across the country who have children in minor hockey and they are shocked that parents cannot attend games or practices in West Kelowna.

I understand the logistics of it (sort of) in that we need to social distance. However think about it. Where my family lives, kids are in school (my son’s middle school has nearly 1,000 students), people go to Costco or other grocery stores where hundreds of people frequent on any given day. People go to restaurants… you get the point. Doesn’t seem like much of a bubble does it? For the record I’ve not heard of anyone whom has contacted the coronavirus. Now that may be a result of people keeping it quiet, but as we do our kid’s health checks prior to every practice, every game you’d have to think that a few folks are not being accurate with the symptom checker. Still I’ve not heard of anyone in our area suffering from the virus. Even more interesting is that back to school typically means flu and colds get passed around, but we are two months in and we’ve not been sick or heard of the flu going around let alone COVID. I guess that’s because we are washing our hands more right?

Listen I have no problem wearing a mask for short durations if it will help prevent the spread of the virus, but there has to be some common sense in allowing society to continue to function somewhat normally. Again you can debate the pandemic all you want. The fact that parents cannot enter an arena and social distance seems like such a farce.

Child Success Hockey Reference

The frustrating part of this for me is that I’m having to miss watching my son on the ice whether at practice or in a game. He misses having his grandparents come to the game or seeing mom and dad’s smiling face as they watch him skate around the ice. These are moments that we can never get back.

Minor Hockey in the COVID world looks something like this:

  • Arena doors are locked at all times
  • <insert hockey association name here> will have a COVID Ambassador to assist with facility access and managing occupancy limits
  • Facility users will not be allowed in the building until the COVID ambassador has arrived
  • User groups are given an assigned entrance for each ice time– please see the schedule on the outside door of the arena and use only the assigned entrance to enter and exit the facility
  • All participants must arrive on time (15 minutes prior to the ice rental) at the assigned entrance to be let into the building
  • There is a maximum of 1 (or in our case zero) spectator per participant (no siblings)- Spectators may only enter the facility when the ice time begins
  • Participants are required to come ready to skate, as close to fully dressed as possible
  • Use of dressing room toilets and showers is not permitted
  • Participants must leave as fully dressed as possible within 15 minutes of the end of the ice time

So our kids are being forced to get dressed in parking lots. As parents we are being forced to perform health checks for our kids prior to any ice time or team event. They are being told to wear masks and social distance (yet their water bottles are right beside each other on the bench). Side note on the whole water bottle thing. There was a certain coach on a Spring team that we played on previously (that we subsequently left) who was promoting the sharing of water bottles. Even pre-COVID this was a ridiculous idea (as at the time there were cases of foot and mouth disease going around). Point being there is a time and place for cautionary measures and there is a time and place for common sense. As hockey parents no one wants to see a child get hurt or get emotionally drained as a result of playing the game of hockey.

One more thing I want to say about not having parents in attendance at practices or games. While there are some whacko hockey parents out there, there is a safety measure that parents bring to the rink. As a parent we are looking out for the best interests of our children. Now let me make this clear this is not an attack on any of our coaches. We have been blessed to have some good coaches over the years, but we have all heard a story at some point or another about a coach that was out of line. It happens every year in some town or some city that is not so far away. I will use an extreme case to illustrate this concern. Let’s call it the “Graham James factor”. James was found guilty of molesting some of his players over the course of multiple seasons. With all due respect to Theoren Fleury or Sheldon Kennedy I would like to hear their thoughts on whether parents should be allowed to be in the stands during COVID or otherwise.

When possible, parents should be in attendance for their children’s sporting event if only to watch and protect. There is a mental health component that cannot be understated when it comes to importance of having parents in attendance at their children’s sporting event, hockey game or otherwise.

Can you image being parent of a five or six year-old child in their first hockey season and having to leave them at the door to an arena or rink? The child is most likely already nervous enough about going on the ice and now when they look up they don’t see mom or dad or grandma or grandpa? It just doesn’t seem right does it?

Before any of you comment that this is a “first world problem”, it truly is more than that. The lockdown and social distancing of 2020 has taken its toll on many people from a mental wellness perspective. We, as parents, should have more of a say in how our children are being treated in this “new-normal”. This whole “new-normal” is ludicrous. We need to look after ourselves and each other. Yes there are some new rules that we need to abide, but we really don’t need to shut everything down do we?

End of rant.

Related: 5 Golden Rules for Hockey Parents