While teams and athletes here in Yellowknife await the doors to open so they can begin playing again, the same can be said for many plying their trade down south.
Those playing junior and university hockey are having to go through various levels of shutdowns and protocols. Yellowknifer reached out to some who have either had to sit and wait or who are currently sitting and waiting, such as Zach Zorn, a member of the men’s hockey team at Concordia University in Montreal. The school announced a closure of all athletic facilities on Jan. 6 and that order will remain in place until further notice.
“It’s unfortunate because I thought we had passed through the worst of it,” Zorn said Wednesday in reference to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It’s a double-whammy of sorts for Zorn because even though he attends a school based in Quebec, they have to abide by the rules in Ontario as the Concordia Stingers play in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Conference. The Ontario government announced on Jan. 3 that the province would be moving into step two of its reopening protocol, meaning no indoor programs of any sort can proceed until further notice.
That followed the OUA’s announcement on Dec. 17 of a suspension of all winter varsity sports until Jan. 24.
Zorn said it can be confusing trying to figure out what’s going on because two provincial governments are involved in the decision-making.
“We have to do what Ontario says because their rules apply to us,” he said. “I don’t know the exact differences (between the provinces) but I’m sure a lot of it is similar.”
To make up for lost time, Zorn made the trip to Boston, Mass., to get in some group skates and workouts. He arrived there earlier this week.
He said the hope is to get back to practices by the end of the month and continue the season, but there will be some players missing. With the National Hockey League bringing back the “taxi squads” — players who can be called up from the minors to help fill rosters during the current Covid-19 situation — some players have decided to leave school and take spots with minor-league teams, most notably the ECHL, as numerous players from that league have been called up to their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliates.
Zorn said he was offered a chance to do just that but decided school was the wiser option.
“My adviser laid it all out for me and encouraged me to think about it,” he said. “I would have done it if I was graduating because I could have finished up online but I would lose my school eligibility if I did that.”
As well, he reasoned that those taxi squads won’t last forever and those players will be sent back down to their farm teams eventually.
‘A lot snatched away’
Kiah Vail of Fort Smith is in almost the same situation as Zorn. She plays with the women’s hockey team at the University of Ottawa and, like Zorn, she’s caught in the middle of two different governments making rules. The Ottawa Gee-Gees play in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ, Quebec Student Sports Federation), meaning they have to abide by Quebec’s rules in terms of games and they can’t do anything team-wise due to the school’s edict of no sports.
Vail said she knew once the case numbers began to rise that something was going to happen and it wouldn’t be good.
“I thought we would at least be able to practice, but no,” she said. “That’s the toughest part — I was already out of shape because of an injury but now it’s tougher to stay in shape because we won’t be on the ice for so long.”
She pointed out that the Canada West Conference is still able to play games and a look at the schedule shows a game between the universities of Regina and Saskatchewan still going ahead on Jan. 14 with no notice of postponement or cancellation.
“Canada West can play but we can’t,” she said. “There’s absolutely no consistency in any league and that’s frustrating. The boys as well at our school — they get to do ODR (outdoor rink) practices because there’s a rink near their coach’s house but we can’t do that.”
Vail plans to try to get in some ODR workouts where she can, but she found a good way to keep in shape: snowboarding.
“I got to do some snowboarding at Mont Tremblant and that’s a great workout, along with skiing,” she said. “Daily walks as well — anything to get outside and stay active because a lot of athletes are struggling with movement and staying active. They’ve had a lot snatched away from them over the last two years.”
Some initial anxiety
Another player who’s endured a pause in activities is Sam Schofield, who plays with the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the BC Hockey League (BCHL). The Capitals were one of three teams that had to shut things down between Jan. 3 and 8 due to positive Covid-19 cases among players. The Penticton Vees and Langley Rivermen were the other two teams affected.
Schofield said he and Ethan Anstey, the other Yellowknife player on the Capitals, are fine. However, he admitted that it was a little hairy when the news dropped.
“I was scared a bit,” he said. “I think we were all a bit nervous because of what’s going on but we all got back on the ice and we’re all good,” he said.
The BCHL policy states that if any player has symptoms of any sort, they are to report it to their coach and schedule a Covid test. If the situation gets bad enough, the team shuts down operations for at least five days under the province’s Covid-19 health and safety protocols and any games that were scheduled during the shutdown are postponed. In the case of the Capitals, their games on Jan. 6 and 7 will be rescheduled.
The Capitals got back to it on Jan. 9 and Schofield said it was obvious they needed some work.
“We were all out of shape not being on the ice for five days but we’re back and it’s all good,” he said.
Outbreak after outbreak
Jack Works, at Denver University in Colorado, had to sit for a while after a Covid-19 outbreak on his hockey team just before the new year.
It wasn’t the first time it happened, either.
Right before the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) playoffs last season, the team contended with an outbreak, depleting the roster at the worst possible time.
“We were hoping that it wouldn’t happen but some guys got it,” Works said. “We ended up playing with about 16 guys.”
Everyone on the team is fully vaccinated, he said, and the Covid-19 protocol is similar to the one in the BCHL.
“If you’re a close contact of someone who has it, you go get tested and self-monitor,” he said. “If you’re negative, you go back and play.”
The team was supposed to play the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) last weekend but those games had to be postponed due to Covid-19 spreading among UNO’s roster. Denver’s scheduled opponents this weekend, St. Cloud State of Minnesota, also suffered an outbreak and they won’t be travelling to Colorado to play. As it happens, UNO has been given the green light to travel again and they will play in place of St. Cloud State.
“It’s really weird how it all came about but we’re playing this weekend,” said Works.
As for his fellow post-secondary brethren in Ontario and Quebec, Works said he sympathizes with them not being able to play.
“I feel for them and anyone else who isn’t able to play right now,” he said. “We’re lucky that we can practice and play here and they can’t even get a proper practice.”