Manitoba’s largest sports organization has cleared another hurdle on its way to putting on a hockey season in the midst of a pandemic — but actual game play remains off the table.
The province approved the next phase of Hockey Manitoba’s Return to Play plan on Wednesday, officially allowing on-ice drills, clinics and tryouts when the plan takes effect on Sept. 1.
It’s the second stage of the hockey organization’s three-phase plan for the upcoming hockey season. The first phase included on-ice, non-contact skill development and online meetings and clinics.
“We can’t take our foot off the brake right now,” said Peter Woods, executive director of Hockey Manitoba. The organization promotes and develops hockey in the province, and registers roughly 30,000 members per year.
“It’s been difficult. We’re moving forward, as are other sports within our province,” Woods said. “Everyone, I think, recognizes the value and importance of sport, that it plays in the lives of so many Manitobans.”
Under Phase 2, players will be required to observe two metres of physical distance except for brief contact, including while on the ice, and spectators will be allowed up to 50 per cent of the site’s capacity.
However, actual games, practices and travel aren’t set to take place until Phase 3, which has yet to be approved.
Figuring out the new system might be challenging, Woods said, but he’s hopeful the teams will make it work.
“There’ll be a great deal of focus on skills for the early part of the season,” he said. “Hopefully, you know, as you move further and the virus to subsides a little bit … we can make sure that we return to a safe and healthy environment for the start of the season.”
Precautions in place
Hockey Manitoba cancelled all sanctioned games and events of its last season in March, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any hockey camps, rec leagues or tournaments that have taken place in the province since that time aren’t sanctioned by the organization.
Under the second phase of the plan, coaches are encouraged to run drills that allow for distancing and to avoid those that have players standing in line or groups for long periods of time, as well as minimize “chalk talk” sessions where players would congregate.
Players should stagger their entrances to the ice rink from the dressing room and benches must be limited to 10 people, including any coaches or staff, the return to play document says.
Water bottles should be filled at home, the document says, and can’t be shared. Players are urged to show up to rinks already dressed to play, except for their gloves, skates and helmet.
Players who test positive for COVID-19 need to be cleared by a doctor or public health official before coming back to play after their self-isolation period. The player will need to bring a note from whoever clears them.
“I think we’re all looking forward to it. We certainly remain cautious,” Woods said of the upcoming season.
“The numbers in the province have gone up for the last few weeks, but I think it’s important that everyone needs to trust in the direction and the leadership that we’re going on, and we need compliance by everyone that’s involved in the sport.”
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