WESTLOCK – Westlock Minor Hockey president Aaron McNelly’s one hope is that the 2021/22 season will be able to play to completion.
Over the past two years McNelly, as well as the kids and parents who come to the Rotary Spirit Centre every winter for hockey, have seen their seasons cut short due to COVID-19. The 2019/2020 year almost made it to the finish line, but was curtailed at the start of the pandemic, while last year the season came to an abrupt end late November. The town actually took the ice out of the RSC in mid-December and although there was hope in the early days of 2021 the minor hockey season would restart and the ice would go back in, it never did as the province continued to tighten public health measures.
“I hope we get a full season, I really do. We’re good for coaches and the registration numbers. It should be a good season if we can continue to play, but that’s out of our hands,” said McNelly Sept. 22.
At the top of the association there are around 34 U-18 players, which means they’ll field pair of teams in the Northern Alberta Interlock League, while at the U-15 and U-13 levels there will be single clubs. U-11 and U-9 will also ice two teams each, while the association will wait to form its U-7 clubs following I Love Hockey Day, slated for Saturday, Oct. 2 at the RSC.
Tiering for the league teams will start at the beginning of October, while league play will kick off by the end of next month.
“The numbers are good, we have around 140 players so far. It was looking a little low, then we waived the late fee considering how last year panned out,” said McNelly. “Then we got a big bunch just before conditioning camp was set to start.”
After some weekend hand-wring by association parents and the executive, the Town of Westlock did clarify its restrictions surrounding entry into the RSC.
On Sept. 17 the town stated that everyone entering the building as of Sept. 21 would need to provide proof of vaccination.
But after weekend updates from Alberta Health Service, the town reversed course Monday, Sept. 20, saying only adults participating in sport, fitness, recreation and performance activities would need to provide proof of at least one dose of immunization against COVID-19, a negative PCR or rapid test no older than 72 hours, or documentation of a medical exemption.
As it currently stands, all youth under the age of 18 are not required to show proof of vaccination at either the RSC or pool — athletes will have to screen for symptoms, maintain two-metres distancing and wear a mask, except while engaged in physical activity.
Spectators of all ages are also not be forced to show proof of vaccination, as the town will follow AHS’ business capacity and operating restrictions of one-third of fire code capacity — spectators must be of a single household, or two close contacts if living alone, be masked, and maintain two-metres of physical distancing.
Ultimately McNelly, who said he’s not interested in getting involved in the COVID-19 vaccination debate, is glad kids and their parents will still be able to use the facility.
“I was a little shocked when they first told me that everyone was going to have to be vaccinated as when I saw the first provincial announcement I figured that the kids would be allowed to play,” he said.