Arena re-opening filled with complications

Social distancing on the bench and in the change rooms two of the big challenges

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Question: How do you run hockey games under provincial COVID pandemic restrictions? Answer: With difficulty.

Just how difficult it will be became clear (or at least clearer) for town council last week when it got its first report on plans to re-open Slave Lake’s two indoor ice rinks. Consider some of the factors:

One hundred people, tops, for watching a game. This number is based on the two metre required distance between each person. That will probably be okay for most minor hockey games, but how will the Slave Lake Icedogs (Junior hockey) team manage?

The two-metre spacing applies on the players’ benches as well, council heard. They heard it, but they couldn’t imagine it working and asked about it. Garry Roth, the town’s community services director, said Grande Prairie is already operating its rinks (summer hockey) under those provincial restrictions. The benches obviously can’t accommodate whole teams with those spacing rules, he said, so “the third line” may have to wait in the hallway.

It gets even more complicated when you start talking about changerooms. No way a whole team can be in there at once and observe the provincial distancing rules.

“It creates a challenge,” said Roth, in quite an understatement. “They have to change in shifts.”

Visiting teams might have to show up already dressed, he said. Then there’s the challenge of sanitizing changerooms. This has to be done after each game, which will likely slow down the process.

“We might have to allow more time between games.”

Councillor Darin Busk foresees all sorts of problems in keeping fans away from each other – especially the younger ones.

“We’re going to need lots of signs,” said mayor Tyler Warman.

The proposal is to have the front ice (Tervita Arena) ready for use on Sept. 14 and the back rink (Pembina Arena) on Oct. 5. Warman asked if those dates could be moved forward. Roth thought not.

“What if leagues start play earlier?” asked councillor Shawn Gramlich.

The same type of thing is happening in other communities our size, said Roth. The town would be working with Minor Hockey and the league (or leagues) to work things out.

“It’s going to be painful for everybody,” said Warman.

True, said councillor Joy McGregor, “but we don’t have control over it.”

The only thing the town does control, Roth said, is whether (or when) to open the changerooms. But what happens once they are open is strictly regulated by the province.

“We have a whole set of rules we have to follow.”

Councillor Busk speculated whether the rec hockey leagues would follow the distancing rules. He also noted it is kind of weird that players have to stay apart from each other off the ice when they will be getting very close to each other on it.

“It’s going to be interesting,” said the mayor.

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