Skaters taking to arenas like ducks to water High-level hockey players happy to hit the ice

Summer training for hockey players has probably never felt so good.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/06/2020 (842 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Summer training for hockey players has probably never felt so good.

A reopening of private arena facilities on June 1 after a shutdown of nearly three months during the emergence of COVID-19 has triggered a flurry of activity at the Rink Training Centre in southwestern Winnipeg.

The City of Winnipeg’s 13 arenas remain closed but community centre-operated facilities such as Seven Oaks Arena and Gateway Recreation Centre have also reopened for private workouts.

Dr. Jeff Leiter says players are just happy to be back on the ice since it was unknown if arenas were even going to open this summer. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Each day, RTC is conducting hourly on-ice sessions with up to 12 skaters, 20 gym participants and another 20 on a second-floor running track.

Once a session ends, the 96,000-square-foot facility is cleared and staff check in the next group, complete with temperature scans and screening questions at the door.

“The general sentiment from a lot of the players is they’re just happy to be back in rink and training and seeing each other,” Dr. Jeff Leiter, the RTC’s director of sports science and performance, said Tuesday. “It’s been a general sense of relief on players’ faces, that it is somewhat back to normal because really, for a couple of months, we didn’t know we were going to be open at all this summer.”

“A lot of times just by the force of habit, people would handshake or be within two metres but everyone has been very respectful of the regulations.” – Dr. Jeff Leiter

Although Phase 2 of the provincial reopening guidelines do not allow a return to full capacity, Leiter was impressed with how accepting skaters have been, whether they are pros or elite junior players ramping up off-season workouts or minor hockey players enrolled in one of the facility’s programs.

“We have a really good administrative team here that has been instrumental in setting up the protocols based on the government guidelines,” said Leiter. “One thing we’ve been pleasantly surprised by is just how adherent everybody is to the guidelines.

“That’s not to say that we expected people to ignore regulations but you really are coming into an environment that you’re used to being in and now we’ve gotta change a lot of habits.

“A lot of times just by the force of habit, people would handshake or be within two metres but everyone has been very respectful of the regulations.”

Leiter understands for the sake of safety that certain parts of game need further adjustment — the practice of spitting is one of them.

“It’s certainly a habit within the game and a lot of times it just happens subconsciously — you’re working hard, you get bumped and a lot of times things do brew up in the respiratory system…,” said Leiter. “A lot of places have come out with zero tolerance, and I understand that — it’s a habit that’s going to be a little more difficult to change.”

Does Leiter see the implementation of full faceshields coming or is that unfeasible?

“I don’t know that it’s impractical,” he said. “We’re not there yet. It’s certainly been talked about a lot at the NHL level as well.”

Meanwhile, the RTC’s spacious spectator areas sit empty for now.

“Currently parents aren’t allowed in the facility but likely that’s going to change soon and certainly we have the square footage to support that to keep everybody safely distanced,” added Leiter.

RTC is staging camps at Seven Oaks, while Gateway opened Monday for private sessions. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

RTC is also staging camps at Seven Oaks, while Gateway opened Monday for private sessions.

Activity is also ramping up at Bell MTS Iceplex, which is normally a major supplier of ice time to minor and recreational hockey but also serves as a training facility for the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets and AHL’s Manitoba Moose.

“Currently we are using two sheets of ice for Jets Hockey Development programming and one for spring hockey programs,” said True North Sports and Entertainment vice-president Rob Wozny.

“Starting next Monday, we are going to see a noticeable bump in external ice rentals with some of our traditional users coming back, including recreational players.

“As far as the protocols we’ve developed from guidelines set by the province, generally speaking, we’re getting a good response and co-operation from those who are using the facility. I think overall, many of the coaches, skaters and parents are simply grateful to have the opportunity to be back on the ice.”

 

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca
Twitter: @sawa14

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca
Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

History

Updated on Tuesday, June 9, 2020 10:03 PM CDT: Typo fixed.

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