No matter what anyone may tell you, Yellowknife is a hockey town.
But that could be said about any other community in the NWT though this year, hockey will take on a whole new meaning thanks to Covid-19.
The Yellowknife Sporting Club is preparing to host the very first hockey of any kind in the age of the coronavirus with the curtain on its summer program set to rise on Aug. 13.
And from what the club’s director of training has been seeing and hearing, it’s going to be as full a house as it can be … within the rules, of course.
Darren Wicks is the person in charge of getting everything together for the on-ice action and he said things are lining up to be a busy few weeks.
“It’s looking really good right now,” he said. “The registrations are filling up fast.”
Hockey was one of the sports slated to return in phase 4 of the GNWT’s Emerging Wisely document, meaning without a vaccine, there would be no hockey. However, all hockey programs have now received phase 2 exemptions, giving the sport a chance to hit the ice for skills and drills only; no games are permitted as of yet.
The plan for the club is to have a full day’s worth of activities at the Yk Community Arena with 60-minute sessions for each age category. Those categories range from U7 to U18 with a prep program for those players heading to junior camps this fall and sessions for goaltenders.
“We have a maximum of 15 players per age group and there will be two to three coaches on the ice at all times,” said Wicks. “There’s only two goaltenders allowed in each of those sessions but we’ll give them a chance to work on their own skills separate from everyone else.”
Wicks is still working on a schedule and that should be released by Aug. 11, he added.
When it comes to the on-ice work, there will be markings on the ice showing each player where they will go and where they can stand, all properly distanced. The club plans on participants arriving no more than 10 minutes before their ice time. They must remain inside a vehicle until the arena doors are opened by a club member. Once inside, everyone will be checked in during a 10-minute window.
Anyone who takes part will have to have a waiver signed and all stations will be sanitized following each group’s time slot. Anyone arriving late will not be allowed to take part.
One thing the schedule will have worked in is slots on weekends for those who may want to come in from out-of-town to take part. The plan right now is to set aside time from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon each week.
“I’ve spoken to Hay River Minor Hockey and they like that idea,” said Wicks. “There’s also the possibility of maybe having kids from Behchoko, Fort Smith, Fort Providence etc. that can’t get in on weekdays. That gives them a chance to get on the ice and be a part of what we’re doing.”
Being that this is the first hockey program to get going this season, Wicks knows it will be put under the microscope to see how it all goes.
“We know we’ll be the test rabbits, so to speak,” he said. “If this all works out, this could be the blueprint for other minor hockey associations in the North to have programming for this season. We’ll share everything with any group that wants it because, and I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can’t imagine this town without hockey.”