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Newmarket minor hockey players happy to be back on the ice

Schedules are compressed after more than six weeks away, with rep teams playing all games required to qualify for playoffs
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Newmarket's U15A rep team practices at the Ray Twinney Recreation Complex Feb. 9.

Newmarket Minor Hockey Association rep U15 A defenceman Henry Kotyk said it is great to get back to playing games.

After more than six weeks away due to COVID-19 shutdowns and holiday breaks, teams returned to the indoor ice Jan. 31 as restrictions started to lift. 

Kotyk said the players were a little rusty from the lack of indoor games and practices.

“There’s been a lot of hold-ups and restrictions making it hard to play,” he said. “But at the end of the day, you love hockey, so you keep playing.”

The association is running fully again after a lengthy hiatus. The York-Simcoe hockey league cancelled rep games Dec. 14 until at least Jan. 3 in the wake of outbreaks. The provincewide shutdown followed the holiday break, keeping rinks closed. 

Hockey rinks have reopened with 50 per cent capacity, with proof of vaccination requirements and masks to be worn at all times when off the ice. 

Association communications director Chris Neale said things have gone well so far. Although some players have had COVID-19 cases, there have not been any outbreaks that have affected a whole team.

“We already had all the protocols in place prior to the Omicron variant. We’re continuing to follow those,” Neale said. “We haven’t had any major issues with any of our teams since we’ve reopened.”

Although house leagues will lose out on games, the association has worked to reschedule everything at the rep level. Those players are not missing out on any games overall.

“The town has been very, very good at accommodating last-minute requests,” Neale said, adding games played are important for playoff qualifications. “That’s a reason for trying.” 

Meanwhile, Newmarket’s historic Silver Stick tournament is running again after a postponement to March break from its usual January dates. 

Neale said it is gratifying for the association to get kids back playing again. He added the pandemic is tougher on kids, and they have wanted to keep hockey going as much as possible as a result. 

“It’s safe to say that everyone is tired of COVID,” he said. “We understand the seriousness of it and the need for the protocols that are currently in place, but at the same time, we certainly value the physical fitness of our athletes, the mental well-being of our athletes.

"They’ve lost two years of growing up that they’re never getting back, and that’s the difficult part," he added. 

After some mid-season tournaments, teams are now preparing for playoff pushes. On the rep side, Neale said there will be fewer teams qualifying due to the schedule compression, but Newmarket teams will have an opportunity in the Silver Stick tournament regardless. 

Newmarket's house league playoffs weekend is scheduled for April 2.

“We’re moving ahead with that. It should be very smooth,” Neale said. “Silver Stick is now going to be held on the first weekend of the March break. We’re very happy that it can be done as well.”

Newmarket U15A winger Ethan Kild said outdoor rinks help, but he prefers getting to play inside.

“It’s been tough, but we always get back on the ice. It was pretty exciting,” Kild said. “I like being in the rink better.”