By Darren Lum
As session one for the Highland Storm Hockey Association winds down for the Christmas break, there is optimism and hope for more hockey with session two starting in January.
With the exception of the under-17 age group, the success of the season with COVID-19 protocols so far is reflected in how it keeps going as planned and how the interest remains high, with registration waiting lists already formed for other age groups for the next session to end the season.
Storm president Jason Morissette said this was possible because of how well everyone involved has worked together, caring for each other at the A.J. LaRue Arena in Haliburton.
“We’re pleased we’ve been able to provide something for our members and to keep them on the ice and … the big message is we’re very happy that the members, like the parents, players and coaches, obviously the executive, [Dysart] township, everybody has been really supportive and cooperative. I think that’s been a big part of [it], honestly to make it go as smooth as can be under such strange times. Moving forward into the second season, I think the message would be we can’t stop adhering to protocols and trying to continue that spirit that’s been there … and I think that’s what’s keeping kids, as well as spectators, in the [arena].”
Morissette said the Storm executive held an in-person meeting about a week ago to discuss what’s happened since they started the two-phase season using the return to play plan based on Hockey Canada’s recommendations related to safe operation during the pandemic. Some of the changes included the mandate that 170 registered hockey players come dressed before entering the arena, except for their helmets and skates, which are put on at a chair in the lobby. Everyone in the arena spectating must wear a mask.
He said the feedback from parents has been positive. Some even pointed out their children regularly looked forward to the opportunity to practice and play a game every week and were disappointed they couldn’t when the arena had to close for about a week for repairs when the water well system failed. A few parents, he said, would like a four-on-four format instead of the three-on-three format. The president wasn’t sure if this was financially possible because of the added costs related to requiring an additional referee, which the under-17 players have. With the way things are, the registration fees remain low and a change now could threaten that. Morissette claims the Storm is offering the cheapest registration fees among all associations in the Central Ontario region.
“We have been the only association that has actual refereed games, [that’s been] going now for a month. Nobody else has had [refereed games] … no one from Parry Sound, all the way over to Bancroft, down towards Lindsay. They have not. They are just starting now to do games … just this [past] weekend will be their first games in Bracebridge, Huntsville, Parry Sound … ,” he said.
He attributes buy-in from all involved as a recipe for success, including the groundwork for organization performed in the summer by the Storm executive.
“Things really came together. Our parents and players and the refs have been awesome about the protocols. The rules went into place and we all communicated really well together and I think that’s the reason why. What’s been kind of cool about it is it looks to me like a lot of people have just sort of been making sure they take care of each other so that hockey can keep going and so that it’s running smoothly and these kids get to play games,” he said.
From what he’s heard, the other hockey associations in other communities didn’t have the same advantages as the Storm, which didn’t have to cope with an amalgamation where two players’ groups from two associations were brought together. Although there was consideration to partner with Sturgeon’s hockey association, he said, there are recognized benefits to remaining small.
“We all agree right now running an in-house league is the best move for our association. It is working and when we compare it to the struggles … the other centres [have] going through the past month or more, we’re really satisfied with what our outcomes have been,” he said.
The Storm didn’t have any positive COVID-19 cases and as a result were not forced to shutdown.
However, hockey did suspend for close to a week when the water well system required repairs at the arena in late-November, which was immediately addressed and then subsequently resolved. Morissette said as a result some teams didn’t get to play each other.
For returning players from session one, they were given early access to register for session two and it will be one week longer.
There is a feeling that everyone is working to provide players a safe place to play hockey, he said. The township has been a great partner towards this goal.
“You really get the sense that people do want to help out one another and want to see things that they can make happen, happen and keep going. I know Andrea Mueller [Dysart recreation program coordinator] and the arena staff and obviously the council I think they really get it and understand that this is an important thing,” he said.
He recognizes parents and caregivers of players want to return to how hockey was before the pandemic, which included travel and competition against other towns’ teams.
His message is simple:
“Let’s just move forward and try and get through this season. This is what is there and it is what it is for now and then just have hope in the fall things will change and maybe there is something different there,” he said. “But also, take in perspective and keep it really close to your heart that here locally we’re really fortunate because there’s so many places in Ontario that are not allowed to play anything. There’s nothing. There’s no dancing. There’s no hockey. There’s no gyms. None of it, right? We can’t just think negatively. We have to say maybe we’re actually more fortunate living in the community that has these opportunities that a lot of others don’t.”
Other than the under-17 group, there are wait lists being created now due to groups being full.
Registration for session two, which will run from Jan. 4 to March 14, is available for players from session one until Dec. 9. The open registration for session two starts Dec. 10.
The cost is $100 for players in initiation one and $225 for players from initiation two to the under-17.
See www.highlandstorm.org for more information.