Saskatoon limits use of hockey nets on outdoor rinks to comply with COVID-19 rules

·4 min read

While outdoor rinks will continue to open across Saskatoon this year, hockey games will not be allowed on them.

At Saskatoon city council's monthly meeting on Monday night, councillors asked administration about reports that hockey nets were being removed from outdoor rinks.

Lynne Lacroix, the city's general manager of community development said that hockey games are not allowed under provincial COVID-19 rules.

"If you leave the nets out randomly, the chance of scrimmages happening or games picking up will probably be high," said Lacroix.

"So they're trying to minimize that as public skating is permitted, games are not permitted under the new regulations."

Last week, the province suspended all team and group sports in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. Under-18 hockey players are still allowed to practise, but only in groups of eight players.

Outdoor rinks operated by community associations will still allow up to 30 skaters on the ice at any given time.

Andrew Roberts, director of recreation and community development with City of Saskatoon, said the new rules on hockey nets are in effect because the province is only allowing practices for under-18 players.

"So based on that, we're requiring that nets not be outside on our outdoor rink during public skating time," Andrews said.

"We are recommending to our community associations — we're not mandating, we're just recommending — that the nets be removed when there's unsupervised time just to mitigate the risk of hockey being played with groups bigger than eight."

The policy is in effect until Dec. 17, when the province will be providing updates to the recommendations.

Patrick Morrell/Radio-Canada
Patrick Morrell/Radio-Canada

Andrews said community associations can still rent out rinks for hockey practices under the new restrictions, and would be able to use hockey nets in those circumstances.

The city has received plenty of feedback from citizens and community associations, mostly looking for clarification, he said.

"We're providing the requirements and the documentation to our community association so that they can share them among the community as well."

Indoor rinks aren't really affected, Andrews said, because nets aren't on the ice during public skating and all rental times are supervised.

"The difference is everyone must wear a mask indoors — it is just recommended to wear masks at outdoor rinks," he said.

Kelly Boes, executive director of the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association, said the new city guidelines don't really affect organized minor hockey.

Boes said their practices, for the most part, are indoors and they are allowed to have nets.

"I really think this is designed around the kids that are, you know, hanging around and just want to go and have some fun and start playing, and a shinny game breaks out," he said.

"I think that's why they're doing it, to try to stop that from happening."

Coun. Randy Donauer (Ward 5) worried there might be confusion between indoor and outdoor venues.

"I don't know if it's sending the right message to say we're going to have hockey facilities inside for practices, but you can't even have a net out for kids to shoot on in the neighborhood," he said.

Chanss Lagaden/CBC
Chanss Lagaden/CBC

Brad Holler, who was out Tuesday shooting pucks at the Sutherland rinks, thinks removing the nets is going too far.

"It sucks for kids," he said. "This is Saskatchewan. Hockey's a huge part of our culture, it's how kids stay active.

"I realize there's a pandemic at hand. But when you look at some of the other regulations that are in place right now, like you can go eat at a restaurant, five people per table and take off [your] masks … to take away hockey nets, I think it's a little ridiculous."

Roman Todos, president of the Caswell Hill Community Association, said they are still getting the rink prepared, so it isn't open yet.

How big a deal the no-net policy will be depends on how long the restriction stays in place, he said.

"We should be close to getting our rink up and running and then we'll have to follow the guidelines as much as possible," said Todos, adding they'll need some more people to help to put up signage up and co-ordinate the new policy.

Meanwhile, Lacroix said other winter activities, like Optimist Hill, are expected to open soon, as is the Meewasin outdoor rink near the Bessborough Hotel.

During the city council meeting, Pamela Goulden-McLeod, the city's director of emergency planning, continued to ask people in Saskatoon to stay at home and limit the number of new cases of COVID-19 in the city.

On Monday, there were 1,318 active cases of COVID-19 in Saskatoon, almost double the number from Regina.

"Our ICUs are currently operating over capacity and our resources are stretched," she said.

"We need all residents to return to following the guidelines of [Chief Medical Health Officer] Dr. [Saqib] Shahab as closely as possible."