Hockey Northwestern Ontario has announced sprawling vaccine rules for nearly everyone involved in minor hockey — a move designed to keep youth players safe this season.
The mandate, which was announced on the weekend, requires the following people to show proof of vaccination to participate in HNO programming this season:
Players born in 2009 or later (12 or older).
Team officials, including coaches, assistant coaches, trainers, and managers.
Game officials, including referees and timekeepers.
Association and HNO officials, including league executives, board members and employees.
"We want to ensure the safest environment possible for our youth," HNO executive director Alex Vaillant said. "We've had to cancel hockey in the last two years, so we don't want to do that again."
"Vaccinations play a huge role in ensuring that we keep a safe environment, so our youth can participate for the full hockey year."
Vaillant said the mandate was developed in consultation with public health officials.
Everyone covered by the mandate has until Nov. 27 to get both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Vaillant said the grace period is in place to ensure there's enough time and opportunity for everyone, particularly those in smaller regional communities, to get vaccinated in time.
The deadline of late November was also selected, Vaillant said, "so when we get into the colder months of the year, December, January, February, we ensure that it is the safest environment when COVID potentially could be more of a concern."
Coaches weigh in on vaccine mandate
Nick Parry, a coach with the KC Sabres under-15 team and a referee, said he supports HNO's vaccine mandate.
However, Parry said he would have liked to have seen the mandate issued sooner.
"For example, the Greater Toronto Hockey League, which is the biggest minor hockey league in the world, we could kind of use that as a measuring stick," he said. "They enacted the policy for players born before 2009 to be vaccinated on Aug. 25.
"HNO just issued this on [Oct 2]," he said. "We're a little bit behind the 8-ball in enacting this policy.
"Now HNO gave ample time for players and participants to get it, which is good," Parry said. "I just feel like it should have been done prior to the season started."
Sam Crowe, head coach of the Westfort Maroons under-15 team, said HNO was "prudent" in issuing the mandate.
"I believe that it'll go a long way to significantly reducing, if not eradicating, instances of COVID-19, and it will help protect the more vulnerable sectors of our society, namely those with underlying health conditions, the elderly and the very young, including two of my own," Crowe said. "I have toddlers, and they cannot yet be vaccinated."
Crowe said, as a coach, he's prepared to enforce the HNO mandate, if required.
"I understand that some may have some hesitancy to have the vaccine," he said. "That's their personal business.
"However, I think in the grand scheme of things, especially when it comes to public health, especially for health of their children and the vulnerable parts of our population and the elderly, I think it's a welcome mandate," Crowe said. "I would have no problem being a vehicle to having to enforce that mandate."