There is no question about it: COVID-19 has changed the world as we once knew it. Every facet of our everyday norms has been flipped upside down and inside out, with the direction of our future still relatively unknown (though I have the utmost confidence our society will prevail in the ‘new norm’ just as well as the old).Like most areas of life, the ice industry was not left unscathed. Hockey came to a halt from the grassroots up to the professional ranks back in March, leaving many of our beloved facilities empty and waiting with bated breath for the return of their on-ice families.
Here’s a breakdown of challenges, strength and positivity coming ahead for us in the future.
The suddenness and abrupt stoppage of pretty much everything took everyone by surprise. While the hockey/curling/figuring skating season was dwindling down with winter breaking way into spring and summer, many regularly scheduled events were also put on pause.
Hockey teams were left without championship tournaments; figure skaters with no final show performance. That, naturally, left ice facilities scrambling to figure out just what to do with their ice.
Will teams return? When will they return? Should we keep the ice in or remove it?
Most facilities erred on the side of caution—doing what was most cost effective for them—knowing families were not going to be able to visit their facility. Ice was removed and spring cleaning and to-do lists were put into early effect.
BUT – and this is a big but – we have seen plenty of positivity coming out of even every challenge facilities, teams and organizations have faced in our industry. More on that below…
It’s amazing the amount of ‘together’ distance can bring us. With seemingly the world at a stop, not only were people afforded the chance to s l o w d o w n, but people were more apt to find ways to stay connected and help one another out.
Hockey teams created new social media challenges for each other. Money was raised for Personal Protective Equipment, and a few ice rinks even turned into donation centers for masks, money and other necessary equipment. Organizations and associations stuck with their players and their families, and facilities did too.
The next steps
What comes next might be the most exciting, but also one of the more difficult things we’ve faced yet.
For the coaches/teams: How does sport resume safely without completely compromising the integrity of the game? How do we make sure the environment in the locker room, on the bench and in the stands is safe for every person in attendance?
For the spectators: Masks or no masks? Six feet apart or is three ok? Should cousins and friends come watch or immediate family only?
Every person has a different comfort level when it comes to dealing with COVID-19; there are two very opposite ends of the spectrum in relation to worry: those who take it extremely seriously and those who think it’s nothing to be concerned with at all. Facilities will have to implement their own rulings to create a balanced environment so folks on either end of that scale can feel comfortable.
For the facilities: Facilities were already doing their due-diligence to maintain clean homes, but that cleanliness will have to be taken to the next octave for safety. Bathrooms, locker rooms, lobbies and business/party rooms will have to be monitored and cleaned hourly at minimum. How will concessions operate? What food is appropriate and ok to serve to the public? What does the skate rental process look like?
All of these questions need to be taken into consideration as we take the next step. Again, these questions are not meant to scare, but emphasize the excitement of moving forward.
USA Hockey has already put on notice their guidelines for teams and facilities to follow to ensure that safety remains the most important aspect of the return. Sure, there will be modifications that will continuously come along as we start to adjust to an altered normalcy.
But it’s a normalcy we can all thrive in. I reiterate, we will come out stronger on the other side of this – the ice industry and all those involved in making sure it remains an industry full of fun, promise and growth. I can’t wait to be a part of these next steps, whatever they may be.
The ice industry prides itself on being a place for recreation, community and families. A place where everyone can come together; no distance can stop that.