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Season gets underway with new game rules and Covid protocols

Jul 22, 2021

This week we finally move to actual games! The Ontario Ball Hockey Association released the Phase Three rules on July 17th and referees have done their refresher training, so we know how games are run and are ready to make them happen. Here’s a brief written outline about how things will work, including some favourable updates compared to what was presented at the first coaches’ meeting a few weeks ago. Please take the time to review this so you know what to expect at the rink. Game on!

 

Rules of Play

Essentially all of the restrictions on normal game play have now been lifted. Specifically:

  • The automatic game ejection for unnecessary body contact has been eliminated. Referees will now call body-contact penalties as in a normal year (i.e., bodychecks not allowed, but normal ball battles OK).
  • The expanded goal crease (like a basketball key) with a 3-second rule has also been eliminated. Goal crease size and rules are the normal ones.

 

Bench Rules

  • The one restriction kept in place concerns the number of players allowed on the bench at once. Two-metre distancing is required between players, which caps us at 5 on the bench at our rinks.

o   Given summer attendance patterns, we have organized teams of ~11 players with the aim of having up to 10 per team actually present for any given game.

o   This creates the possibility that we’ll have more than we can fit on the bench at some point. In such a case, the extra player can use the penalty or timekeeping area as an extension of the bench. In a couple of divisions with older players, teams of more than 11 mean that the area outside the rink may be used as overflow benches if attendance is strong for a given game. Coaches in these divisions will be apprised of this process.

  • Since coaches won’t be able to keep 2 metres of distancing from the players on the bench, as in pro hockey, they will be required to wear masks.

 

COVID-Related Protocols

  • Staff will be positioned at a table beside the entry gate to the rink. They have three main duties prior to the beginning of a game:
  1. Sanitization of surfaces – specifically, the top of the boards along the bench areas and the gate handles.
  2. Ensure that everyone entering has completed their screening questionnaire and is symptom-free.
  3. Ensure that we have accurate attendance records for potential contact tracing should a positive case later emerge.
  • TeamSnap, while a great tool, has a couple of limitations with regard to #2 and #3 above:
  • There is no master account that can see everyone’s health check status – everything is based around individual teams. So, coaches can see in the app who has and hasn’t done the screening questionnaire, but rink staff can’t.
  • While people’s intention to attend is recorded, often people don’t come who say they will, or vice versa. Meaning, it’s not an adequate record of attendance.
  • As a result, staff will use a paper-based mechanism to track these.
  • There is a binder at the rink with the roster for each team.
  • For each game, beside each player’s name, a check mark will be entered to record that they have completed the screening and are in attendance.
  • Since coaches have this information, they will physically check off the attendance information (with a freshly-sanitized pen), and share the TeamSnap Health Check list with the rink staff, who will check off that column.
  • This means that coaches need to be the first in line to enter the rink, and players enter once their information has been recorded. The Home team enters first, followed by the Visiting team.
  • If anyone shows up who has not completed screening, staff will administer the questions orally. We have a printed sheet on-site for players to quickly read, to expedite this process.
  • To allow time for all of this, for all Youth divisions, there will be a buffer of 15 minutes in between games. So, periods will be 18 minutes each, with the remaining time used for warm-up and breaks. Given hot summer weather (when it eventually arrives), shorter periods will probably be welcomed by many.
  • Note that the only access point the league can control – and the facility for which we have a permit and need to enforce Toronto Public Health rules – is the rink surface itself and the immediately adjacent paved surface where staff work and where overflow players will stand. We will not be able to run COVID-19 screening for spectators or enforce distancing rules in areas of the park outside the rink. Spectators outside the rink are responsible for knowing and following the rules regarding outdoor gatherings.
  • For the U6 division in which families traditionally watch on the playing surface, a sign-in sheet will be provided for parents entering the rink, for screening and contact-tracing purposes.

 

Equipment Rules

  • Sharing of goalie equipment is now allowed, so long as it is sanitized between different users.
  • However, we do not yet have permission from the City of Toronto to access the clubhouses at the rinks to store the goalie gear.
  • So, for Week One, we’ll continue with the Shooter Tutors as originally planned. If we are able to store the gear onsite, we will do so as soon as permission is given and extra staff are available to make the move. We could have goalies as soon as July 26th if the City grants facility access.

 

Other Information

  • With normal game rules and the ability to run more players per game, each game will now have two referees, not one as previously discussed.
  • Unless we are allowed to use the clubhouse for goalie gear, we will have only one rink staff, who will double as timekeeper. This frees up the timekeeper’s box as a potential extension of the bench.
  • The timekeeper will not, however, be keeping score. With only six weeks in the season there is not enough time to have playoffs, and irregular summer attendance will affect competitive balance in many games. This season, the focus remains on fun.
  • Uniforms (T-shirts) will be present at the rink prior to your first game. There are no numbers, just a variety of sizes, which should make distribution easier.
  • We are doing photos only for U14 and below, based on feedback we have received. Similarly, mementos (medals, this year) will be for U8 and below only.
  • We are planning an end-of-season celebratory day with a PA system, music and fog machines, but no food (beyond potentially freezies or a similar cold treat).