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Returning to the rink

After a 2020-21 season full of uncertainty, the return to a sense of normalcy for local hockey associations and Hockey Canada Skills Academies is cause for excitement

Shannon Coulter
November 23, 2021

There’s excitement buzzing around rinks from coast to coast to coast. Skates are freshly sharpened, sticks are newly taped and Canadians are celebrating the return of hockey.

After a season full of uncertainty last year, the return to a sense of normalcy is a welcomed sight for local hockey associations and Hockey Canada Skills Academies (HCSA).

“There’s tournament planning going on and exhibition games going on. Everybody’s just excited to get going,” says Trevor Hanley, a U18 AA coach from Martensville, Sask.

All the programs in Dave Tressor’s school board in Kenora, Ont., were not able to run last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the return of our game, the program at Beaver Brae Secondary School is set to be reinstated in February.

“We’re so excited to have an opportunity to get the academy back and get the students going again,” says Tressor, who is the vice-principal at Beaver Brae.

In Athabasca, Alta., 2020 was supposed to be the inaugural year of its HCSA at Edwin Parr Composite School. The anticipation has grown over the extended start date, but the wait has paid off for the Grade 8 and Grade 9 students.

“Anytime somebody talks to me about hockey academy, I get the stupidest grin on my face because I’m just so excited,” says assistant principal Brenna Liddell. “I’m like a kid on Christmas Day, it’s so exciting. Our kids are having a great time and our parents are really adjusting well.

“I spent two weeks before November break meeting with each of our kids that are in it. We talk about academics, we talk about attendance and then I say, ‘Hey, tell me how hockey academy is going,’ and every single kid smiles and says it is the best thing in the world.”

For Porter Creek Secondary School in Whitehorse, Y.T., it was able to run its HCSA last year, but it focused mainly on skill development due to the restrictions from COVID-19 safety guidelines.

“I think [the students] are excited about the fact that they can do more gameplay [this season],” says Amy Vermeulen, the lead instructor at Porter Creek.

The program at Porter Creek runs in the second semester of the school year, but the buzz about the return of a more normal hockey program is already affecting the students.

“I see a few of them all the time in the halls,” Vermeulen says. “They talk about how excited they are to just get the semester over so they can start the hockey program.”

Local hockey associations across the country are also looking forward to getting back to a sense of normalcy. In Prince Edward Island, teams are back on the ice, but the main difference this season is the amount of time teams are allowed at the rink before practices or games.

Blaine Fitzpatrick, a Charlottetown Minor Hockey coach for the U15 AAA female team, knows the socialization before hitting the ice is beneficial for his team.

“They just wanted to get back to the way it was, be able to hang out, have some fun and chit-chat beforehand. We’re getting closer to that, we’re allowed in 30 minutes before now on a consistent basis, so that gives them that fun time at the rink,” Fitzpatrick says. “The excitement level is much higher because of the opportunity to potentially have a normal season as it was before COVID.”

One thing players in Yellowknife, N.W.T., are looking forward to is the return of tournaments.

“We generally get to play against the other smaller communities,” says U7 assistant coach Patricia Parker. “They come here, we go there and then we get to see a little bit of the town, they get to go to the swimming pools, and that’s the one thing they’re really missing right now.”

Hanley says everyone is back on the ice in his association, with U7 through to U11 teams practicing while U13, U15 and U18 teams have already started league play or are gearing up to begin. Last year, Saskatchewan teams were able to practice throughout the season, but they were limited to eight players on the ice at one time.

“It stretched a lot of guys to be creative and keep it innovative and exciting for the kids, so they’re excited to get back to full teams, working with everybody at once and certainly having the opportunity to coach in games,” Hanley says.

Creativity and adaption have certainly flourished over the past 18 months. With locker room restrictions in Yellowknife, Parker had to adapt to helping her young players get ready.

“They came fully dressed, but we had to tie their skates, untie them and bring them back to the parents,” she says. “We actually got to bond with them more because you got to talk to each kid as you were tying their skates and get to hear what they did on the weekend, or they would tell you what they had for dinner.”

Inspired by the NFL, Fitzpatrick created a playbook with all the team’s basic coverage systems last season so each player on his team can review it whenever they please.

“We don’t have as much time at the rink to go over lines with the group, so [each player] has that in a booklet at home,” he says. “They can spend their own time getting familiarized with that aspect of the game.”

Despite the uncertainties and challenges the pandemic brought, communities from coast to coast to coast are looking forward to using hockey to promote an active lifestyle.

“Mental health was a real concern, and I think this concern was not only throughout the province, but throughout the country,” Tressor says. “The hockey academy program provides a great avenue for students to exercise and get back and socialize again.”

Now that Our Game is Back, everyone is ready to get back to playing the game they love.

“It’s nice to see that they’re going to hopefully have a normal rest of their minor hockey careers and be able to enjoy their time at the rink with their friends,” Fitzpatrick says. “They’re going to work hard and develop, and you never know, maybe give themselves some opportunities down the road. I’m really excited for the kids.”

For more information:

Esther Madziya
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 284-6484 

Spencer Sharkey
Manager, Communications
Hockey Canada

(403) 777-4567

Jeremy Knight
Manager, Corporate Communications
Hockey Canada

(647) 251-9738

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