Young hockey players in B.C. are heading back out on the ice for a season unlike any other.
Sean Raphael, vice-president of programs for B.C. Hockey, said the organization has been working on pandemic-safe plans since the spring, when programs were cancelled due to COVID-19.
"It's been a learning curve in general and a change of philosophy," said Raphael to host Gloria Macarenko on CBC's On The Coast.
Minor hockey teams in the province will play according to a cohort model, Raphael explained. There will be a maximum of four teams in each cohort, and players can play with regular contact within that cohort during games.
"That keeps the contact tracing and the exposure to people with contact into fairly small, manageable groups," Raphael said.
A player can only be part of only one cohort within a single sport organization at any given time.
While contact will be allowed during gameplay, players must adhere to physical distancing measures any time play stops.
"As soon as play ends, players are required immediately to establish physical distance from all participants, and they either move directly to the next face off location or to their bench to make a player change," he said.
"If players do commit fouls of contact during those stoppages, they get penalized accordingly."
Physical distancing measures must also be observed before and after games in arenas, including change spaces.
On-ice officials, like referees, are not part of the cohort system and will be expected to physically distance themselves at all times.
"In a regular environment, officials are taught to physically distance, even though it may be within a different frame of mind in the past," Raphael said. "A lot of that philosophy stays the same."
Raphael said in the event of a positive COVID-19 case among players or staff, the organization will work directly with the health authority, who will complete appropriate contact tracing and communication.
He says this season will be an adjustment for many players and their families.
"It's reconditioning or changing of habits that have been established with players," he said, adding it will take time and all parties working together to understand the new system of play.
"In general, I would say overall, people have been very willing to make the adjustments and keep safety as the No. 1 priority."