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New world minor hockey

Athabasca Hawks teams will look to adjust to COVID-era hockey
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Athabasca minor hockey teams will hit the ice at the Multiple for the first time this hockey season Sept. 28.

ATHABASCA - It’s going to be a very different kind of hockey season for players in the Athabasca and District Minor Hockey Association (ADMHA) this year, but nevertheless, the Hawks will hit the ice just as soon as it is in at the Multiplex Sept. 28.

It has been more than six months now since hockey, and all sporting events, were cancelled across the country due to COVID-19, but ADMHA president Dustin Pysyk says that while the coming season may turn out to be a bit different from others, the character-building values of teamwork and sportsmanship will still be the ultimate takeaway for players as they develop and hone their skills.

“We’ve been told the ice is going in Sept. 28, so we’ll be starting that week,” said Pysyk. “I think some people are excited, but some people are questioning what the season is actually going to look like.”

ADMHA takes its cues from Hockey Alberta, which takes its cues from Hockey Canada. The Hawks’ home at the Athabasca Regional Multiplex also has its own rules it has implemented, as far as gatherings and sanitation.

While COVID precautions will be top of mind for the association and staff at the Multiplex, one of the changes that also took place over the break was the introduction of new names for the different age brackets. Atoms, pee wees and bantams are no more.

ADMHA has also seen a significant drop in registrations this year. There are 26 U18s; 27 U15s; 33 U13s; 28 U11s; 11 U9s; and just five U7s — that’s 130 players, which is down from 238 the previous year.

Numbers have been trending down in the last few years, especially among the youngest hockey players. Pysyk said he’s not sure if it’s because of COVID or if the numbers are just following the trend downwards.

“We have to do some recruiting for the U9s and U7s because those numbers are really, really down,” said Pysyk. “We need to look long-term for our association and those numbers don’t bode well if they stay the same, so we need to start figuring out why kids aren’t joining at the younger ages.”

The first month of the season will be similar to others, said Pysyk, but it will be a bit of a drawn out process, as coaches determine the skill levels of their players through inter-squad games and observing their development.

“Hockey Alberta is hoping by November or December, if everything goes according to plan, they’ll have what are called competition pods,” said Pysyk. “We’ll just play it by ear and hope the kids stick with it.”

Details are still to be determined, but in an effort to cut down on travelling, teams will likely be grouped into mini-leagues of three to five teams in a modified competitive season, and should Alberta Health Services give the go-ahead, a regular season may take place in the new year.

The ice schedule at the Multiplex, starting the evening of Monday, Sept. 28, starts with the U18s Monday and Wednesdays from 7:45-9 p.m. U15s skate Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:45-9 p.m. U13s will take to the ice Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-7:15 p.m., while the U11s are scheduled for Tuesdays from 4:15-5:30 p.m. The U9s and U7s ice time is still to be announced.

Players on the U15 team and under are required to dress before arriving at the rink as change rooms will not be accessible, and may not enter the facility until 15 minutes before their scheduled ice time. U18 players may use the change rooms, but washrooms and showers are off limits.

The Multiplex has recently updated its guidelines regarding spectators as well. One hundred spectators will be allowed in the assigned area of the bleachers, but the lobby is still off limits, except for the washrooms, which will be strictly monitored by staff and by the association.