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A minor hockey season like no other

SDMHA grateful of coaches and volunteers in dealing with an unprecedented campaign
What typically would be a season full of games and tournaments was anything but for South Delta Minor Hockey's rep teams, including the U18 A2 Storm.

The party never did get started for the South Delta Minor Hockey Association.

The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with the 2020/21 campaign, especially in early November and beyond when rising case numbers resulted in further restrictions and brought an end to cohort games after just two weeks. It remained that way for the next four months, wiping out plenty of highlighted events including the always popular Party In Da House Tournament that is typically held during the holiday break.

“It was like a two-week survival rate. We were still planning to do our party tournament which is always a big event for us,” said SDMHA president Todd Allan. “We just didn’t want to cancel it in case we could do it (later in the season). We kept hitting the two-week break re-set button but there was nothing. By February, I think parents and kids all ages, especially teenage ones, realized we were not playing games.”

As a teacher at Delta Secondary and a father, Allan doesn’t need to be reminded of the impact the pandemic has had on teenagers, especially those that were looking forward to their final couple of years in high school and winding down their minor hockey careers.

“Really if I had to give up a year it would be in my 30s or 40s not when I am 16 or 17. Those in Grades 11 and 12, I feel really bad for them,” he said.

“For the most part (U18) rep kids are going to stay engaged regardless as they still have the ambition of wanting to play somewhere. For the (U18) and (U16) house kids it can be really difficult (not playing games) and as coaches you have to really try and be creative. That was a big hurdle with parent coaches (at those levels) but they were outstanding for us.”

It was last summer when the association worked with former SDMHA executive Wayne Carleton to come up with a safe “Return to Play” plan that was approved by ViaSport and the City of Delta. Social distancing had to be factored into everything from arrival to the arena without parents to how many players that were allowed on the ice.

“We had to redo our ice grid a few times to manage the numbers,” explained SDMHA administrator Tracey Lipp-Derrheim. “We would sometimes have 30 to 40 kids on the ice with those age groups and now we could have only 20.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge was parents not being allowed in the arena, from separation anxiety for the younger players to not being able to see their child’s progress on a weekly basis.

“That that was the hardest thing. Some parents were in the arena as we needed safety persons,” added Lipp-Derrheim. “City protocols allowed us one videographer and each team had to coordinate that, whether it was putting it on Instagram live or private Facebook. The restaurant at Tilbury definitely became a hotspot for parents.

“At the end of the day the kids still had fun. I thing if you asked people last August they would say my child doesn’t want to come to hockey unless there are games, but I think people realized that it was just nice for their kids to go to the rink and have something to do.”

The association is planning for a “normal” 2021/22 season come September, but it will be a cautious approach.

“I’ve stopped trying to be optimistic and be more realistic instead,” added Allan. “If we can get on the ice to do our (rep team) evaluations and prep camps that is a good start, but we also know we have to be ready to change on the fly.”