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Three Associations Discuss a Safe Return to Hockey

By Ontario Minor Hockey Association, 11/05/20, 12:30PM EST

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Focusing on development throughout the season

It’s been a number of weeks since Associations have come back to the rink under the OHF Return to Hockey Framework. We’ve all been navigating the new protocols and guidelines at arenas to keep everyone safe. The game may look different but seeing the smiles on player’s faces helps us understand just how much they missed being on the ice.

We spoke to volunteers from three local minor hockey associations to share their experiences implementing Return to Hockey.

Here are some responses from:

  • Brian Sharpe (Burlington – Vice President Hockey)
  • Jim Craig (Niagara North – Interim President, Vice President Hockey Operations)
  • Ian Avery (Dresden – President)

How have you worked with your Public Health Unit/Authorities and facilities to ensure a safe return to hockey?

Sharpe (Burlington): We have been engaged with the City of Burlington going back to the early summer and worked extremely closely with them to create a comprehensive and detailed safe Return to Hockey protocol and plan. The plan was built using the OHF/OMHA template and adapted/modified to meet the city requirements. Since we only use public city facilities an individual plan was also created for each of the 9 ice pads we use to go along with the Eagles club protocol. This plan was the template used by other ice user organizations in Burlington so that we all functioned in the same manner. The city was extremely receptive to our plan, supported it and shared with city council and the Halton PHU.

Craig (Niagara North): Public health has been advising our City with regards to regulations. In turn, the City of St. Catharines has been working with us to allow players to return safely to the rink. They have been communicating the protocols and safety measures they have put in place. They have been open to communication and feedback and have provided a safe environment for us. Following the guidelines from the City, the OMHA and the OHF has allowed us to safely put our players back on the ice. Additionally, Niagara North has created a COVID response committee. Their task is to take in all of the information that comes down to us, dissect it and send it out to the entire Niagara North community. We are thankful for their commitment to the safety of our community.

Avery (Dresden): Over the course of the summer we communicated almost daily with our arena supervisor to put together a plan that followed local PHU guidelines as well as the Hockey Canada and OHF Return to Play document. Adaptability is key, as rules and protocols have been changing weekly to reflect changes made at the provincial and local level.   

What opportunities do you see for your players with 3-on-3 and 4-on-4?

Avery (Dresden): Simply put, this format of hockey will provide more time on the ice, more time with the puck and more space to add creativity to their game. We also see the chance for friends to play with each other that may have not had the chance in the past due to streaming of rep and local league.

Sharpe (Burlington): 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 provide a great opportunity to get our players back playing and enjoying the game. They miss the competitive nature of the game but will gladly welcome the opportunity to compete when time allows us to do so as we are presently under restriction within Halton that prevents us from introducing this. For now we are focused on skill development.

Craig (Niagara North): We are hopeful that 3-on-3 opportunities will be developed either within our organization or potentially with other AAA organizations in our regional health unit. We are working towards this with the other association as well as with our arena partners and OMHA.

For the most part, parents have been on board and genuinely grateful with getting their kids back on the ice realizing the benefits of hockey as a developmental tool for their kids. We believe our parents feel safe bringing their player to the arena and take the COVID-19 screening policies and arena protocols seriously.

What has been the response from parents and coaches about being back at the rink and playing hockey this year?

Craig (Niagara North): The response from everyone has been positive. Players and coaches are thrilled to be on the ice again and parents are happy to see their children back enjoying themselves. It is a challenge adjusting to the new way of operating but everyone has the same goal and that is safety for all. Parents and coaches have had this goal in mind since we were authorized to resume on ice activities. Our coaches have been amazing, utilizing their creativity and flexibility to make this time as great an experience as possible. We are thankful to have such dedicated individuals leading our players.  

Avery (Dresden): For the most part, parents have been on board and genuinely grateful with getting their kids back on the ice realizing the benefits of hockey as a developmental tool for their kids. We believe our parents feel safe bringing their player to the arena and take the COVID-19 screening policies and arena protocols seriously.

Sharpe (Burlington): It has been a very welcome response from both our parents and our coaches. They want their players to be active but are at the same time cautious in regards to safety and health concerns. We have been complimented on our return to play by families and our commitment to safety first. As to hockey itself they realize it is not the hockey they have come to expect and are anxious to move back to what they are used to. They understand the need to be respectful of the stages we must adhere to under OHF protocol but are hopeful that we can move forward as soon as possible.

How does your Association plan to focus on engaging development this season?

Sharpe (Burlington): We have set up a very detailed training development program under the direction of Corey Locke, our Director of Player and Coach Development. Corey is a former OHL and professional player and currently an assistant coach with Guelph in the OHL. Corey‘s experience and knowledge of the game is a valuable asset to our program and he has engaged 6 other development instructors within his group to support and develop both our players and coaches. This is a very different year and development is the key component of our hockey program.  

Craig (Niagara North): For us development has always been the focus. The main focus of our coach selection revolves around development. Development is always the top of the agenda for our guys. We feel that utilizing the vast experience our coaches throughout our organization is key. Normally, we encourage our coaches to work together, get on each other's ice and benches to offer a unique perspective. Of course, this is not possible at this time, we are encouraging our coaches to continue to be in contact with each other, support each other and share new and successful ideas. Additionally, Niagara North has always supported our teams by providing the resources to bring in specialty coaches. Goalie, skating and shooting coaches are utilized by our teams to enhance the tremendous job our coaching staffs are already doing. This season has placed the emphasis on development for every association and we intend to see this as an opportunity for our players and staff. Learning and sharing is the model we will continue to foster with our teams.    

Avery (Dresden): This is 'fluid' as they say. Our current development and 3-on-3 plan lasted only until October 31st. Our development committee will meet mid-month to discuss playing options, strengths and weaknesses of our current programming, and how we might better engage our kids within the parameters laid out by the OMHA and our local PHU. Our committee is representative of all age levels so as to speak to the different engagement challenges one might face in U9 versus U18.


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