By Ottawa Sportspage, For Ottawa Girls Hockey Association
Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 considerations have been top of mind for the Ottawa Girls Hockey Association this summer, but the familiar draw of the rink has players craving the new hockey season nonetheless as the calendar flips into fall.
“It’s been a very challenging and interesting year,” signals OGHA Vice-President Marc Lugert, who’s spent many hours liaising with government and sports bodies alongside fellow members of the organization’s executive. “It’s changing every day you know.”
Determining what form the 2020-2021 season will take is an ongoing project. Which arenas to open and what ice times are available still needs to be determined by the City of Ottawa. With this in mind, the OGHA is accepting registrations for its programs but will not ask for payments or final commitments until the picture becomes more clear.
What is certain is that the OGHA will follow all COVID-related guidelines established by health authorities, government and the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association, to ensure a safe return to hockey.
At present, OGHA expects there won’t be games played at the outset, out-of-town competition and tournaments will be on hold until the second half of the season, and competitive tryouts will be delayed until January. For the moment, players will be assigned to non-contact practice “bubbles” – grouped with others according to skill level alongside a coach they stick with.
Some OGHA players gathered under this scenario to rent ice together recently, which felt a bit like Christmas morning to the girls.
“They were all so happy to be back at the rink – everyone didn’t know what to do with themselves for the past half-year,” recounts Lugert, whose daughter was one of the participants. “The girls are ready and they’re really keen to do something, but they also know they have to be a little careful.”
Some of the protocols players are following include: wearing masks inside the arena whenever they’re not in a helmet, no sharing of water bottles or food, and arriving at the rink already dressed in their hockey gear. Arena users must sign-in in order to access the ice (to facilitate contact-tracing in case of COVID detection). They enter through one set of doors and exit at another.
“It’s really well done,” says Lugert. “I wouldn’t say there’s no risk of course, but it’s as safe an environment as we can make it really.”
There is danger in not participating in sport too, Lugert underlines, noting the impact of screens on children’s health was nearing epidemic levels even before the pandemic hit.
“It’s pretty uncertain how the school boards will manage sports and physical activity and extracurriculars – if they’ll even happen at all,” he adds, meaning community sport will likely become that much more crucial. “It’s very important to get kids out, playing sports and doing physical activity. There’s only so much Netflix you can watch.”
On top of the physical benefits, there is a special camaraderie within girls’ hockey in particular that players experience and treasure.
“They’ve been missing out on a lot of social interaction,” Lugert indicates. “With a team sport, or even an individual sport where you’re training with others, it has such a positive impact on youths’ mental health, and their social-emotional development.
“Seeing your teammates and your friends again, it just kind of gets them out of that drag and really rejuvenates them.”
Growth of girls’ hockey can’t be held back
The OGHA anticipates that its widely popular First Shift program will return this season. Thanks to sponsorship from Bauer, the NHL and NHLPA, first-time hockey players receive a full set of new equipment and weekly on-ice sessions with a talented all-female cast of OGHA coaches for just $199.
The OGHA’s other core programs – Fundamentals, House League, Developmental, Competitive and Junior with the Ottawa Lady 67’s – will adapt as necessary for the 2020-2021 season.
What is certain for the OGHA is that the continued growth of grassroots girls’ hockey will persist through the pandemic.
“The shutdown has definitely made everyone that much more hungry for hockey,” Lugert highlights. “You don’t have to look any further than our young girls taking up the sport – you see their enthusiasm and the fun they’re having on the ice, the big smiles they have, and their parents too. That’s a really great sign for the future of the game.”