The Highland Storm returned to the ice Feb. 19 to begin a second session after withstanding another pandemic-induced lockdown.
The Storm announced an eight-week session Feb. 17, running until April 17. It will use a similar format to the one done in the fall, with enforced health protocols and teams only made up of local players, with no travel.
Storm president, Jason Morissette, said more than 90 per cent of players and families from the first session were willing to play again.
“It’s a good opportunity to get out and be able to do something they’ve been away from for a while during the lockdown,” Morissette said. “Outlet for the kids to be able to go exercise and do something that’s fun.”
The continuation is possible due to the district being an “orange” zone, midway within the province’s COVID-19 response framework. With that comes a new protocol that only one person may accompany a player to watch, though people can still help their children get dressed before leaving for the duration of the game or practice. People from outside the district’s health unit also cannot enter the arena.
“We’re going to follow all of the safety measures we did in the first session, which went well,” Morissette said.
Still, the remainder of the season is in a precarious position. If cases spike and the district get moved to a “red” zone or back into lockdown, hockey would be disallowed. Morissette said that will probably mean the end to the season, even if restrictions were lifted afterwards.
“The logistics of it would be very challenging,” Morissette said.
At coaches’ request, Morissette said the organization will do more four-on-four play as well where possible, instead of only three-on-three.
“Allow more kids to be on the ice each shift, rather than kids waiting on the bench,” he said. “It represents a little bit more of a challenge to the players that are sort of higher skillsets.”
The Ontario Minor Hockey Association recognized the efforts of its volunteers to keep the game going in the pandemic as part of its Thank A Volunteer Week running Feb. 22-28.
“Volunteers all over the province have found new and creative ways to offer some form of hockey,” executive director, Ian Taylor, said. “It speaks to the love they have for our game and the benefits it provides our children.”
Morrissette said it is worthwhile to help youth mental health, which the pandemic has taken its toll on. He urged the community to follow protocols to minimize risks and keep the season going.
“We’re excited kids do get the chance to get back onto the ice,” he said. “The number one priority is trying to keep everybody healthy and safe.”
Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander