Pictou Advocate sports

Safety, above all is key in our arenas


The invasion of COVID-19 has been tough for all of us. As the virus interrupted our lives in just about everything we do, we’ve struggled to get through a very unusual period.

We stayed the blazes home, we distanced ourselves from friends and everybody else, we wore masks, we avoided our favourite restaurants, we found new ways of staying sane.

Needless to add, sports were hit hard, from the pros to the kids.

For a time, it looked like there wouldn’t be much minor hockey this winter. A bit later, it was anticipated the kids would be playing after all, though not many spectators would be in the rinks.

The issue affected everyone.

I know I found myself debating with myself. I felt like I was Donald Trump and Joe Biden all rolled into one. Heaven forbid such a thought.

I’ve been a hockey fan since my father started taking his four-year-old son to games at the old Arena in downtown New Glasgow in 1942. Yes, 78 years ago.

In all that time, I never missed a season without attending games. There were winters when I went to rinks 100-plus times — from NHL matches to senior, junior and university levels in Nova Scotia, to my own sons playing in Cole Harbour.

More recently, two hockey-playing granddaughters have been my reason for being in arenas near and far. I’ve loved watching them.

Then came the virus.

My younger granddaughter’s team had just completed atom provincials in mid-March at the Pictou County Wellness Centre when COVID swept in. There wasn’t another game in 2019-20.

As October was reaching its final hours, when we should have already been starting to attend games, none had been played.

The new norm had made its way to the rinks where kids play hockey for fun. Not this season — or so it seemed as late as last Friday morning.

Restrictions had been laid down by Hockey Nova Scotia, the sport’s governing body in this province. The revised regulations included reduced attendance at games.

It wasn’t a happy feeling when the limits were announced some time ago. So few folks were going to be allowed, it looked like only one spectator per player would be in the rinks.

Proud old grandparents were among those who might not see many games — maybe none — this winter.

That had me digging up negative adjectives to describe my reaction. Not a single game for the first year in almost eight decades? How could that happen?

I was upset when I got the news.

Then, a wiser me began thinking about the other side of the issue — the safety of the young players, their coaches, the game officials. Restricting the number of people would help to ensure such goals.

The day before I started writing on the subject, I made a stop at Sobeys, mask tightly hiding my face. Just minutes into the store, I ran into the father of an atom-aged hockey player. He was furious — because under the proposed guidelines he and his wife wouldn’t be able to attend their son’s games together. Remember, approximately one person per player.

I kept thinking about the issue.

Surely moms and dads could be accommodated when their kid is playing. They know the situation, they know how to distance themselves inside a facility. Imagine the scenario in homes when a child is putting on his or her gear. Who’s going this time? Mom or dad?

The man in Sobeys made an interesting point. How come, he said, only one parent could be at a game, yet a thousand shoppers could crowd into Costco minutes away?

It was easy to agree with him.

Couldn’t that be the answer? Let Mom and Dad watch their youngster – and Nana and Grampa could stay home and hear about the game later.

That, to me, would be more reasonable.

I filed what was to be my column in this week’s Advocate, then turned to other matters.

Two hours later, the phone rang.

At first, I couldn’t believe my ears — until the caller gave me the details of a breaking story. Hockey Nova Scotia had just issued a press release — one I’m sure pleased a lot of hockey moms and dads.

The spectator limits for minor hockey were being increased, dramatically in some arenas, not as much in smaller rinks with less seating capabilities.

The news was good.

By now, hockey parents have the facts. Moms and dads will be going to games together after all.

I didn’t anticipate it, but I’m delighted.

When you think about it, why was the announcement from Hockey Nova Scotia a surprise?

People who follow minor hockey know — or should know — that Hockey Nova Scotia executives are always doing their utmost to provide the best sport possible to thousands of children of all ages.

It takes many volunteers to make it happen, but there have been many dedicated men and women striving to make everything fall into place.

For 15 years, Darren Cossar was the executive director. The former goalie performed his responsibilities with a sincere dedication, always giving his best to the game. He loved the sport, he loved his work, and it showed.

He’s now with Hockey Canada, but the Nova Scotia body never lost a beat.

Darren’s replacement, Amy Walsh, showed her talents as director of sport development at Sport Nova Scotia. I’m sure she’s just as capable in her new surroundings. I’m equally certain current president Arnie Farrell and minor hockey chair Brian Wentzell are just as dedicated to maintaining hockey safety and enjoyment for all players.

I’ve had so much respect for Hockey Nova Scotia through the years that I shouldn’t have been surprised by the organization’s increased spectator limitations.

More than ever, I feel safety, above all else, is the key in our arenas, thanks to thoughtful and caring leaders.