Hockey Calgary prepares for return to the ice with pandemic precautions

A Zamboni clears the ice in this file photo.

Hockey is going to look different this fall.

With the COVID-19 pandemic remaining an ever-present threat to Calgarians, there can’t be a return to normal in the minor hockey world. Not just yet.

But that doesn’t mean there will be no hockey. In fact, Hockey Calgary, the organization that helps more than 14,000 kids learn and play the game every single year, is moving ahead with plans to get kids back on the ice this fall.

It’s going to look different, but minor hockey will be happening.

“It will be a different looking program, but we plan to get kids going and the focus will be No. 1: Safety. No. 2: Fun, and No. 3: Development,” said Kevin Kobelka, the executive director of the minor hockey association.

Hockey Calgary recently released a 10-page document on its website detailing its plan for getting kids back on the ice. It relies heavily on guidance from Alberta Health Services, Hockey Canada and Hockey Alberta, and will see players broken up into cohorts of no more than 50 people.

That means that over the next little while, Hockey Calgary will be doing physically-distanced evaluations before being split into their cohorts of 40-50 players. Those cohorts will practise together and play against one another until the time arrives when Alberta moves out of Phase 2 of its relaunch strategy.

Hockey Calgary’s plan is extremely detailed and allows for teams within those cohorts to play games against one another in three-on-three, four-on-four and five-on-five formats. Coaches are not included in the cohorts, so they will need to remain physically-distanced throughout the season.

“Everything is starting in the next couple weeks. All our programs are having their conditioning camps starting next week,” Kobelka said. “The first and second week of September we get going full-speed starting our evaluation process and we’ll continue to go through the developmental season until we can start official games.

“We’ll be playing, let’s call them mini-games within our cohort, but official games won’t start until we have a better idea from the AHS and the Alberta government.”

Registration for Hockey Calgary’s programs is ongoing, and Kobelka acknowledged his organization was anticipating a 10-15% decrease in sign-ups for the upcoming season.

“We have to be safety-first. Safety needs to be the trump card and we know it’s challenging going back to school and there’s certain people who are excited to get back to the rink and there’s certain people who are a little weary of going back,” Kobelka said. “We want those kids to play, but we understand that every family has different levels of tolerance.

“The world is different right now. We’re different as far as how we go to work, we’re different as far as when we go to restaurants, we’re different as far as a lot of things go and we need to understand that hockey’s going to be different. People might not like it, but they understand that we’re living in a different world right now and we’re trying to make sure we give the kids an experience that at least can get them out there getting some fitness and socializing a little bit with their friends.”

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