Hockey groups surprised by Alberta's change to team sport restrictions

·2 min read

Youth minor sports teams will be allowed to resume practice when some public health restrictions ease on Monday, Alberta's chief medical officer of health announced Saturday.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Twitter that as dine-in service in restaurants resume, so too can practices and lessons for indoor and outdoor team-based sports and athletics. Games will continue to be off limits.

A maximum of 10 people can participate in practices, including coaches and team members. The restrictions state participants can remove masks during training, and that access to change rooms must be limited.

Spokespersons for both Hockey Alberta and Hockey Calgary said the announcement caught them off guard — previous easing of restrictions had been announced on Jan. 29, giving affected groups more time to react.

"It is definitely a positive step for allowing players back onto the ice for hockey activities," Brad Lyon of Hockey Alberta said in a statement, adding that the organization will provide an update as soon as possible for members on the path forward.

Kevin Kobelka, executive director of Hockey Calgary, said that organization is also reviewing the change to assess its next steps.

"We are excited about the opportunity to get kids back on the ice, this is something we have been advocating for, it does provide some challenges but with each challenge comes an opportunity," he said in a statement.

Rule change 'confusing,' coach says

But Andrew Moreau, a minor hockey coach in Calgary whose two teenage sons play the sport, said the change is a bit confusing.

"It definitely looks like they're backtracking a little bit," he said.

It would have been better news before the hockey associations cancelled their seasons, Moreau said. The logistics of getting teams back on the ice with safety regulations, and on a condensed timeline, will be challenging.

"I would believe it would be very, very difficult to have Hockey Calgary or Hockey Alberta transition us back to the rink for the remainder of the season."

Last month, some hockey families and clubs around the province attended protests against ongoing public health restrictions, calling for team sports to return.

Hockey Alberta had announced it would conclude the 2020-2021 minor hockey season on Tuesday, with CEO Rob Litwinski saying that given the current health restrictions there was too much uncertainty to schedule future games.

That decision affected 14 minor leagues in the province.

Hockey Alberta said a decision about whether Junior B, C, and Female and Senior leagues will continue will be made on Feb. 8.