Beer league hockey is supposed to be fun.

But are local players taking liberties with health rules during the COVID-19 pandemic that could lead to a closure of city arenas?

Jason Shaw, Winnipeg’s assistant chief of emergency management, warned about the possibility last week after Manitoba’s chief provincial health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, and Mayor Brian Bowman called out local rec hockey leagues for poor adherence to safety protocols.

"We’ve seen a number of contacts and a number of transmission events during recreational sports," Roussin said on Friday. "So again, playing a game of hockey and having drinks afterward with the entire team and both teams in change rooms or (parking) lots, we’re seeing transmission events."

A day earlier, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning that rec hockey provided the conditions for a "superspreader event" of COVID-19.

"... it’s just a matter of guys not congregating in the parking lot, not drinking in the dressing room and the guys are getting the message because they want to keep playing hockey.” — Rob Barnsley, director of the Winnipeg Rec Hockey League

One local rec league operator said the provincial directives are being taken seriously.

"We’re in tune with the health authority, we know what is being asked of us (and) we deliver the message," said Rob Barnsley, director of the Winnipeg Rec Hockey League. "And we’re being very responsible in that sense. So, it’s just a matter of guys not congregating in the parking lot, not drinking in the dressing room and the guys are getting the message because they want to keep playing hockey."

Barnsley’s organization is a newcomer to the local scene but already has 90 male hockey teams and 34 women’s ringette teams under its umbrella, playing games at the Rink Training Centre, Bell MTS Iceplex and Seven Oaks Arena. It is the only rec league playing out of the RTC and Iceplex.

Barnsley said he regularly visits the venues and expects compliance with regulations.

"My guys are very respectful in the sense that when I say something they listen and I always tell the guys I deliver the message (that) we want to make sure we’re good patrons because we’re a big partner with all these rinks," said Barnsley. "It’s a business for them, too — renting out ice."

Are local Rec league hockey players taking liberties with health rules during the COVID-19 pandemic that could lead to a closure of city arenas?

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Are local Rec league hockey players taking liberties with health rules during the COVID-19 pandemic that could lead to a closure of city arenas?

Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods hopes the problem can be rectified quickly but made it clear his organization has no responsibility for adult rec hockey.

"I guess what’s disappointing is when (Dr.) Roussin and the mayor are commenting on socialization and guys drinking in the dressing room and and out in the parking lots — those aren’t our members," said Woods. "Then we as a sport are penalized and sanctions are taken against programs that aren’t related to us."That could be similar to penalizing us for the spread of the virus in Walmart."

Woods, as he has done frequently in the past few months, urged people playing the game to stick to the health regulations for the good of everyone involved.

"I think there’s a responsibility on everyone to not only look after their own program but to be respectful of others by following the rules and regulations and that it’s disappointing when people can’t follow the rules," said Woods.

"In talking to people that have participated in those unsanctioned programs, they had the impression that nothing’s changed and they’re still operating the way they have in the past."

“I think there’s a responsibility on everyone to not only look after their own program but to be respectful of others by following the rules and regulations and that it’s disappointing when people can’t follow the rules." — Hockey Manitoba executive director Peter Woods

Hockey Winnipeg president Chris Hall worried that closing arenas, whether they be private-, community- or city-run facilities, would be a disasterous outcome.

"We’re concerned about that and also the people that we represent," said Hall.

"We remind everybody on an ongoing basis to abide by the rules that are in place and protocols in place at all the rinks. Because if they don’t, what the mayor said Friday is they’ll be forced to close rinks and that’s the last thing we need right now."

Hall said the return-to-play protocols in minor hockey, including physical distancing and limiting attendance to one parent per player, has been generally well accepted.

"What I’ve been hearing is the adherance to the protocols in place has been good," said Hall.

"We implemented masks as part of our return to play through Hockey Winnipeg and Hockey Manitoba. From what I’ve heard, there’s been a couple of instances where people have not wanted to comply and (we) just asked them to leave."

 

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

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

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