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'Important we do everything in our power to finish the season': Newmarket minor hockey association

Leagues readying for possible return Jan. 27, awaiting word on protocols
2022-01-19-Ray Twinney Recreation Complex
An ice rink at the Ray Twinney Recreation Complex.

Newmarket minor hockey is preparing — and hoping — to get its players back on the ice, with the latest pandemic pause possibly ending next week.

Ontario hockey leagues have been shut down since Jan. 3 due to provincial restrictions in the latest wave of Omicron. Restrictions could lift as early as Jan. 27, though the province has not yet announced if that will happen. 

Newmarket minor hockey association communications director Chris Neale said they are planning for an early opening.

“We’re used to having to pivot and make adjustments to the programming for the kids. It certainly hurts getting locked down and not being allowed to play at all,” he said, adding players are missing out with all the stoppages. “It hasn’t been good.”

The Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) halted play Jan. 3, after a Christmas break, as provincial restrictions came into effect. The York-Simcoe minor hockey association had also suspended games Dec. 14 due to rising numbers of COVID-19 outbreaks, though house league and team activities could still carry on.

Neale said outbreaks only hit a couple of Newmarket teams in their association, though undoubtedly, cases were spreading across York-Simcoe. He said players in the under-12 category were particularly vulnerable, given their previous lack of vaccine access. 

“Obviously, we realize and understand the Omicron variant is much more transmissible. But also, the science is telling us it’s less severe. We try to weigh it,” he said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to follow the protocols whatever they are.”

York Region medical officer of health Dr. Barry Pakes has said there is evidence suggesting Omicron is less likely to cause hospitalization than the previously dominant Delta variant. But he said it is so much more transmissible that it can still strain the health-care systems.

The association is still hoping to get its players back on the ice, with its house league championships scheduled for April. 2. It also plans to send teams to the Silver Stick tournament, now rescheduled from January to the March break.

Neale said the association was happy with how the first part of the season went. He said they were able to improve enrolment despite the challenges posed by the pandemic.

“Our board and executive did an amazing job of recruiting kids to keep playing,” he said. “That’s our No. 1 goal as an association, is to keep our enrolment up and increasing it, and introducing kids to the game." 

Ontario minor hockey required all players 12 and older to be fully vaccinated to play but it is not immediately clear what the policies will look like for the under 12s now that vaccines are available for those age five and up. 

Regardless, Neale said they would follow whatever the OMHA dictates, and are confident they can manage a return to play safely. 

“It’s important we do everything in our power to finish the season."