And with that, the first season of rec league hockey in the age of Covid-19 in Yellowknife has come to an end.
And it ended with the best team from the regular season ending up on top of the heap following the playoffs.
Ace are your 2020-2021 Yk Rec Hockey League champions after knocking off the Weaver and Devore Marauders, 5-0, in the decider on March 31 at the Multiplex. Gavin Dwyer was perfect for Ace as he pitched a shutout between the pipes while Josh Mitton scored the game’s opening – and what turned into the game-winning – goal.
Devin Hinchey of Ace had perhaps the worst vantage point in which to view Mitton’s marker – he was bent over fixing his skates.
“It’s about 20 or 30 seconds in and I’m working on my skates,” he said. “I hear cheering and asked if we scored.”
Maybe Mitton did. Maybe Mitton didn’t. All depends on who you ask.
“I think if it ended up being a 1-0 game, it would have been a much bigger deal than it was,” said Hinchey. “Luckily, it wasn’t the only goal and it was the best start we could’ve asked for, especially against them.”
Marauders defenceman Ryan Nichols said his team simply had no answer for Ace.
“They shut the door on us,” he said. “They were the best all year long and congratulations to them.”
Having the season at all was very much up in the air as late as October with occupancy requirements at the Multiplex still within the 25-person range per arena.
But there was hockey to be played after all as the league got permission to have up to 11 players per team with one goaltender for a total of 24 players total with one official bringing it up to 25.
The league also laid down several rules with Covid-19 in mind. Each game would be two 25-minute periods – running time – with no changeovers, no spitting, no post-game handshakes and no shootouts to solve tied games.
Each team was to arrive no more than 15 minutes before their scheduled game time and had 15 minutes to leave the building after their game was completed.
Nichols, who also serves as the league’s president, said it was a different season, to say the least, but it went as smooth as it could have.
“Having the 15-minute rule wasn’t too much of an issue,” he said. “No complaints from anyone that I heard but I think people missed the hanging out part of it. That’s a big part of rec hockey – getting together and hanging out after the game – and we lost that this season but it’s something we had to give up so we could play.”
Hinchey said a lot of the players had come off a season of Covid-19 rules in the Yk Fastball League last summer and knew what to expect coming into the hockey season.
“It certainly helped that we had guys who had that experience of fastball,” he said. “The season is on the verge and we had to get it right or we don’t play hockey – it’s that simple. I’m glad everyone took it seriously.”
If there were any issues with rules being broken, Hinchey said Nichols was on it right away.
“No matter what it was, he was diligent about it,” he said. “A lot of people have mental and physical issues, some of it as a cause of Covid-19, and it was good for us to have hockey to go to.”
Something else that was bereft this season was the amount of disciplinary issues and Nichols said he was happy to see that.
“There weren’t too many fights or any sort of stick infractions this season,” he said. “Suspensions were way down and I think the rules had something to do with it.”
Normally, a player receives a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for engaging in fisticuffs but this season, the league clamped down: any fighting and the offending players were gone for the duration of the season, including playoffs.
“It was one of those situations where you stopped and thought about whether you really wanted to drop the gloves,” said Nichols. “It was tamed down quite a bit.”
For the second year in a row, there was no Easter-time tournament owing to the ongoing pandemic with Nichols saying it just wouldn’t work out financially.
“We looked into doing something but it came down to players having plans for the long weekend already and there wasn’t a lot of interest,” he said. “The beer garden helps drive down our costs quite a bit but there was no way we could have that under Covid rules and the league just couldn’t eat the cost of what it would take to host.”
The hope for next season, said Nichols, is to have things return to normal but who’s to say right now?
“You can’t predict what’s going to happen,” he said. “The plan is to keep things at 14 per team right now and hopefully, it changes for the better and if it does, we go back to the way it was.”