Local hockey rinks striving to ensure safety during COVID-19

Local rink owners and hockey players credit the province’s population with curtailing the spread of COVID-19 and permitting some amount of normalcy.

Dylan Murphy

hockey player
Local hockey player Dwan Street pauses for a photo on her way to a game. Street is just one of many local players who appreciates the opportunity to play hockey safely in these difficult times. Dylan Murphy/Kicker

Recreational hockey players in Newfoundland and Labrador are thankful the province has become a relatively safe haven where their sport is alive and well thanks to safety measures.

Across the country, many leagues have seen their seasons cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due in no small part to the diligence of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians in combating the spread of the coronavirus, hockey arenas and recreational leagues across the province have been able to operate this winter, for the most part, with a “business as usual” attitude.

Yetman’s Arena on Bonaventure Ave. in St. John’s is one of many local hockey rinks that have been able to open up to the public and ensure safety. Owner Patrick Yetman credits this accomplishment to the population taking responsibility and following all health and safety measures set out by the provincial government.

“All credit to the people of the province who put the time and effort in and cared about the province as a whole and everyone living here,” Yetman said. “It’s because of them that we’re able to operate.”

Currently, all rinks in the area operate under a consistent baseline of rules. The buildings are sanitized top to bottom every single day. Hand sanitizer is available upon entry, masks are required, players are socially distanced, and there are limits upon the number of players allowed in dressing rooms at one time. For organized play, names and numbers for contact tracing are required.

More stringent and inconsistent rules were in place when arenas were originally permitted to open. Some of those rules included no locker-room access at all. Some rinks required showing up dressed in everything but skates while others permitted dressing in the stands. Over time, the restrictions were relaxed as the situation in the province improved and as rinks moved to the more consistent guidelines in place today.

Players have adapted well to the measures that have been put in place. One such player is Dwan Street, a former figure skater who converted to hockey five years ago. In pre-pandemic times, she could be found on the ice nearly every night of the week. Nowadays, she’s down to two skates a week: the local women’s 25+ league and a casual game with friends at Yetman’s Arena on Sundays.

Street says she and other local players don’t feel hindered by the current restrictions.

“Honestly, I haven’t heard any complaints and certainly do not have any myself,” Street said. “I think we are all willing to do what is necessary to keep ourselves and the game we love safe. We also realize how easily a cluster (of infection) could occur and we certainly do not want to take any risks.”

Reason to hope

The dedication to actively combat the virus is seen not just in the local hockey scene, but in the entire province. While the population must remain vigilant for the foreseeable future, there is a sense that as long as everyone continues to do their part, all can live in relative safety.

As of Thursday, the province had just six active cases of COVID-19. There has been little to no community spread, and perhaps most notably, the province survived the holiday season without a dramatic uptick in cases.

“It’s remarkable,” Yetman said. “Kids can go to school, people can go out to eat, go for a beer, and go play hockey.”

Street offers her gratitude to rink owners, managers and staff for their hard work through these trying times for ensuring all local players can return and have confidence that they are safe and that the buildings are clean.

Most rinks have taken on extra staff to sanitize or invested heavily to have third-party companies come in to do cleaning and take a loss on bookings to ensure extra cleaning time.

The protocols the government and rink operators have developed are stringent and thorough and gives players confidence that the operators care as much as they do.

Lastly, Street gives a special thanks to the players at her Sunday night casual game at Yetman’s Arena.

“They’ve become not only a bubble during this pandemic but are like having 19 big brothers and best friends. There’s no one else I would rather spend a pandemic Sunday night being socially distanced on the bench with!”

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