Hockey returned to the arena in Hay River in mid-October after a Covid-19 shutdown.

However, the stats of the sport now include more than goals and assists.

The Midget team playing with Hay River Men’s Rec Hockey gathers in front of their bench before a game on Oct. 30. Under Covid-19 restrictions, only a total of 25 people are permitted on the ice and benches for hockey games at the arena, including players, coaches and the referee.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo


There is also the number of players allowed on the ice and benches at any given time, and how many people are permitted in dressing rooms and in the stands.

Stephane Millette, director of recreation with the Town of Hay River, said an application will be made to the office of the chief public health officer to adjust some of the capacity limits, which exist because of Covid-19.

“We haven’t submitted a formal submission yet,” he said late last week, noting he has discussed possibly varying from the public health order with the GNWT.

Right now, 25 people in total are allowed on the ice and benches for hockey games, including players, coaches, referee and timekeeper.

“The one thing we noticed is that minor hockey has two groups where the maximum occupancy of 25 means that some kids are having to sit out,” said Millette. “So the one thing that I started communications with the GNWT on is to see if that maximum occupancy of 25 could be bumped up to 30 or 32 so that we don’t have kids in that situation where they’re having to sit out.”

Pennie Pokiak, the president of Hay River Minor Hockey, said the 25-person limit – meaning up to 12 players per team – is affecting the Midget team playing in the rec league two nights a week.

“We have 20 players on the Midget team,” she explained. “So we can only have 12 players to a game because of the restrictions. So what we’ve had to do is we’ve split our team, and some people only get to play one game a week and some will get to play twice.”

Pokiak said it is not an ideal situation, but the team is making it work.

The capacity limit also has the potential to affect the Atoms division, which offers hockey practices for children nine and 10 years of age.

Pokiak noted there are 28 registered Atoms.

“From what I understand, they haven’t yet had to turn anyone away because not everybody goes to every practice,” she said.

Terry Rowe, president of Hay River Men’s Rec Hockey, said it would be nice to have more players allowed on a team.

“But we’re pretty short numbers, anyway,” he said. “So it’s usually not a major issue for us.”

One other issue has been the eight-person limit in dressing rooms for players over the age of 12 years.

Millette said he will request a review of that maximum occupancy of eight given that masks are mandatory in dressing rooms, time in the rooms is limited, and players are asked to dress at home for games and have minimal equipment to put on once at the arena.

“And because we’ve measured the dressing rooms and with two metres distancing between individuals – we’ve put tape down – we’ve determined that you can have up to 12 people in the dressing rooms, which aligns perfectly with the maximum number per team per game right now,” he said.

Millette said that would help streamline things and minimize the amount of cleaning and disinfection that teams and town staff have to do after use of the rooms.

Rowe said, if more than eight players show up per team, they are required to use two dressing rooms, and that can be a bit hectic when a team is leaving the two rooms and another team is entering.

It’s a bit of a cluster to get everybody moved around, he said.

Pokiak noted the eight-person rule for dressing rooms doesn’t apply to children under 12 years of age.

“You can have as many kids as you have on your team in the dressing room,” she said.

Millette said the other capacity change he may request would involve people allowed in the stands.

Up to 25 parents of players 12 years of age and under are now allowed in the bleachers.

“Given how things have been going and that there are actually not that many parents that are attending, and given that masks are mandatory, I’ve asked the GNWT if they’d review that restriction on parents of kids that are older than 12 years,” he said. “To me, the reality is that kids sometimes get hurt on the ice. Sometimes they have equipment malfunctions. And to me whether the kid is 12 or 13 or 14, it’s a good thing to have the parents in the building.”

Pokiak has her own opinions on allowing fans in the stands.

“I don’t understand how they can say if your kid’s 12 and under you can be in the stands watching and if they’re over 12 you’re not welcome to be there,” she said. “It infuriates me, to be honest with you.”

In fact, she thinks anyone should be permitted to watch hockey games up to the 25-person limit, not just parents of players.

“We have this multimillion-dollar facility and it’s a beautiful facility, and I think to keep people out of it is just not right,” she said.

“We shouldn’t be dictating what sport or who can be there to support it, because some people don’t go to watch hockey because they have anyone on the ice,” she noted. “They go to watch because they purely enjoy it, and there’s nothing else to do in this town. So why would we want to stop that?”

If an application for the various changes to allowed capacity is submitted and approved, it would cover all hockey leagues and other ice users, such as figure skating and speed skating.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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