Think it's bad in the states? Hockey Quebec says "Hold my beer"
Knowing the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, Brenda Bourdeau hesitated before registering her 11-year-old son for recent hockey tournaments and upcoming tryouts.
But it had been a long few months for him, and Bourdeau felt returning to team sports could be good for his morale and mental health. After consulting the measures in place, she decided to give it a go.
From the moment he took to the ice with teammates, she knew she had made the right choice.
“(Parents) noticed it right away,” Bourdeau said this week. “Just to be on the ice, and be together and playing, was a massive change in their mood.”
As registration for hockey ramps up, Bourdeau is among thousands of Quebec parents who will need to decide whether or not they feel it’s safe for their children to return to the sport.
It’s a concern Hockey Quebec’s Paul Ménard says is “only understandable.” As the governing body’s director general, Ménard said he’s been flooded with calls and emails from parents, especially as reports have emerged of outbreaks at hockey camps and tournaments over the summer.
But after months of preparation, Ménard believes the infrastructure is in place to allow the safest restart possible. And though there will be noticeable differences when minor hockey returns this fall, if all goes according to plan, Ménard is confident “hockey will still feel like hockey.”
Hockey Quebec oversees 232 minor hockey associations in the province, representing more than 125,000 players, coaches, and referees.
All of its sanctioned activities came to a halt in mid-March, when Quebec banned large gatherings as part of its wider shutdown.
Over the last few months, it consulted with more than 450 members, including doctors, to put together a plan for an eventual restart. The plan includes six phases, ranging from off-ice training only to a full return to hockey as normal in the last phase.
It is now in the plan’s fifth phase, which is probably what will still be in effect once most of its activities restart this month.
“It will not be a completely different experience,” Ménard said, “but it will be a different experience.”
Under Phase 5, players are asked to put their equipment on at home, show up to the arena no more than 15 minutes before game time and leave immediately afterward.
Players showing any potential COVID-19 symptoms are asked to stay home and advise their teams. If a player develops symptoms during a game, they will be isolated in a room until a parent or chaperone can pick them up.
Teams will also have fewer players. For children under the age of 16, teams will have 10 players and a goalie, with the players on the bench required to stay one metre apart, as recommended by the government for that age group.
For players 17 and up, teams will have eight players and a goalie, the idea being that having fewer players on the bench allows them to stay the required two metres apart.
Whether teams have access to a locker room will depend on each arena’s ability to ensure it can properly disinfect the rooms after each team uses it.
Coaches will be required to wear masks and parents will need to respect whichever government regulations are in place for indoor gatherings.
There will be no handshaking before or after games, and checking and physical contact will not be allowed during play.
Ménard acknowledged it isn’t realistic to think all contact or proximity will be eliminated from the sport. He also knows that whether or not that puts the players’ health at risk is the question weighing most on parents at the moment.
“We can’t distort the sport, two players will still battle for the puck,” he said. “Can we be 100 per cent sure nothing will happen? I don’t think anything is 100 per cent sure right now.
“But what is for sure is that we need to take all the possible precautions, and we have.”
Last week, a Montreal hockey camp closed after at least three teenagers and a 23-year-old coach tested positive for the coronavirus. In mid-July, another outbreak occurred at a local ball hockey tournament in the Laurentians.
Though the events weren’t sanctioned by Hockey Quebec, Ménard wishes public health would have shared more information about the outbreaks with the federation.
Did the virus spread during the games, for example, or by people gathering afterward?
“It would help us to understand more for when our seasons restart,” he said.
The Montreal Gazette asked the Quebec Health and Social Services Department whether it plans on issuing any directives or guidelines for hockey, but did not receive a response by deadline Tuesday.
The Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) has issued recommendations for cycling, walking, and swimming, but none for any team sports.
Asked if it will weigh in on hockey, given the sport’s popularity in Quebec, a spokesperson said it isn’t something that’s in the works for now.