The last time these young players had a chance to play hockey was during the November 7 game against the High Prairie Red Wings. Since that time, health restrictions have prevented them from continuing games or practicing. The players have remained with their billet families in town, anticipating the government’s next move.
The provincial government’s original announcement reveals a four-step timeline for Alberta’s “Path Forward," which lays out the criteria for when businesses and other activities can resume. Step 1 launched on February 8 to ease restrictions for restaurants and specified fitness activities. It also includes children’s sports, but only if they are related to school activities, but team sports such as Junior A hockey will not be permitted. It is still unclear where the Ice Dogs fit into the new government health plan. Step 2 indicates further easing of children’s sports, but it’s not until Step 3 that restrictions ease for adult team sports and indoor seated events. Out of left field, the province suddenly announced another change for Step 1 of the plan. On February 6, Hinshaw revised earlier statements and announced children under the age of 18 years old were now permitted to train. Minor hockey and dance can re-open with restrictions, but teams must be under 10 people and for hockey, remain two-metres apart at all times, and not permitted to play games, only practices.
With the clock ticking and as the end of the hockey season draws near, the soonest the team may get on the ice is the beginning of March, providing hospitalization numbers remains at the benchmark of fewer than 450 patients. Even then, it’s not confirmed. Many hockey organizations and leagues have already announced the season's cancellation, with plans to start back up for the 2021/22 season.
Adding more uncertainty to the Ice Dogs situation is having ice to play on once restrictions are lifted. During February 1 council meeting, the agenda item of discussion is whether the ice should remain in the Multiplex for the time being or have it taken out. As councillors mentioned, it’s costly to keep the ice in the rink and not advantageous to keep it since health restrictions prevent anyone from using it. Many municipalities have decided to remove their ice early, but a few in Alberta keep ice in the arena year-round. Further discussion and a decision will be made at the February 22 council meeting. It’s not going to be a decision councillors take lightly, as again, there are many factors to consider. The town typically removes the ice at the end of March as that’s when hockey season ends, but would it be worth it to keep it in. An alternate plan mentioned by Councillor Gilmore is to reach out to other municipalities to see if their teams would consider renting ice time, which would help cover costs to keep the ice. Again, without having solid confirmation for what the government’s plans are, it’s a roll of the dice at this point.
Vicki Winger, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Whitecourt Press