These are unusual times. And in the hockey world, the so-called ‘new normal’ means the phrase ‘business as usual’ may no longer be applicable.
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way lives are being led and how business is being conducted.
And in the instance of hockey — which literally affects millions of players, coaches, managers, teams, leagues, advertisers, fans, families and friends at all levels of the game throughout Canada, the United States and beyond — it is more about the unknown than the known.
There are issues of safety, sanitation, health, wealth and physical, mental and social well being.
‘Social distance’ is the new catch phrase. At least for now — and more so in some areas than others.
To be sure, at the end of the day, health and safety has to be at the top of any priority list. (And if it isn’t to some, then it sure as heck should be.)
Meantime, coaches and managers and teams and leagues are trying to plan ahead and think ahead to the start of the next hockey season, whenever that may be. And there is nothing wrong with good plans — and planned courses of action and reaction.
Looking at the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League, which houses 11 teams, including one American entry — the Michigan Soo Eagles — commissioner Robert Mazzuca will not play the guessing game as to when he thinks the 2020-2021 regular season will begin.
“The Chief Medical Officer for the Province of Ontario is the only one who knows the answer to the million dollar question,” Mazzuca relayed to me.
Over to the Ontario Hockey League — which is made up of 20 teams, including three American-based squads — commissioner David Branch has opted for a released statement.
“The OHL is looking forward to the upcoming hockey season. We plan to drop the puck in the fall and will follow the lead of government and public health agencies on when it is safe to get back on the ice. Our players and coaches are getting ready to play and our teams are working on their plans to provide the great experience our fans and the community have come to expect from OHL hockey,” is what Branch is saying at this time.
And while it may be business as unusual, teams are least going about business.
For example, in the NOJHL, the Espanola Express has commitments from seven returning players and one newcomer ahead of the 2020-2021 season while the Soo Thunderbirds have signed six local players, including four returnees. And the Thunderbirds have also hired a new head coach and three new assistants during this off season.
Over to the OHL, teams are busy signing rookies, making trades, and hiring new coaches and general managers.
So in that respect, it is business as usual, albeit in unusual times.
And as rinks in many areas of Ontario are poised to re-open for summer ice sessions, the unknown remains in the backs of our minds.
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What about youth hockey?
What is going to happen with the the young ones who have been brought to the games by their parents and turned over to coaches for supervision in old arenas and dressing rooms, some of which have not put a previous priority on cleanliness.
Maybe it’s time to think about using the numerous outdoor rinks for the kids leagues — like they used to do back when the baby boomers were kids themselves.
The kids get into uniform at home and are driven by their parents to an outdoor rink where the air is fresh and clean.
This doesn’t have to be the end of the innocence.