A Word About Cohorts, Schedules and Spares – Playing Rec Ice Hockey Is A New (Ball)Game Now
There is plenty of confusion about what the new regulations mean for recreational, and for some (ok most?), beer league hockey. Things have changed and the ground (ice) shifted under our feet.
With the arrival of COVID-19 and the ensuing lock-downs no one was sure when ice hockey will be back. We have now been given a second chance to get back out there. But it comes with a cost.
The virus is still with us and the pandemic is not over. If you listen to Dr. Hinshaw’s weekly briefings we can not let our guard down just because restrictions are loosening.
We get all that, and we know you do as well. Hockey is allowed to be played, with restrictions. The kind that no one even thought about before all this happened.
But we can play! Yes it is not an ideal situation, and it requires us to adjust everything we have done before when playing hockey. Is it worth it? That would be up to each and one of you reading this to decide.
For some people this will be a deal breaker, as they will wait to see what happens after hockey resumes. For others, they can’t wait to get back out there. For us, we fall somewhere in the middle, we can’t wait to be out there and want to play, but we do not want to take a step back and face new restrictions.
The schedule is essentially unknowable before everyone registers to play
This is why we all must abide by the new regulations and continue to do our part, the good news we are now allowed to play! That was not an apparent outcome in April when the world was ending.
The question is, how much do you want to be playing and will you accept the costs associated with it? Ask yourself how you feel when you get out on the ice, and the world and its worries melt away for the next hour and a bit. How will you feel when the NHL is in full Stanley Cup Playoffs swing this August and teams are going for the cup (talk about how weird things have gotten …)? Will you need to scratch that itch?
If the answer is no, we understand, it is a personal decision for each individual. But if the answer is yes, we are doing everything we can to return to play, safely. So lets talk about the realities of playing hockey in the COVID world.
Arenas are scrambling, all at once, to put back the ice they have taken out back in April. This takes time and equipment, we have written about this recently here. As we are working very hard to nail down the start of the season dates, all indications point to the week of July 20th as the start of the season, which at this point is about a month away. This is not a lot of time to get organized, and here is why.
We need to know how many teams will be playing in this abbreviated World Cup of Hockey season so that we can set the cohorts correctly in the beginning. With each passing day we have less time to do this. Until we know what cohorts we will have (we want to wait as long as possible before building the cohorts so we can improve the parity of each for the duration of the season) we can’t make the schedule.
The schedule is essentially unknowable before everyone registers to play (teams). This is by the way how it works for any other season and the reason why have to cut off registration a month before the start of a “normal” non COVID season.
This being said, once we know what teams will be playing and what cohorts we can build, we will set the schedule for the whole season (5 games) and it will not change (no realignment is allowed). You will have schedule certainty after we make and publish it.
As we said before we want to wait as long as possible (and it is not long, probably a week or so) to figure out what we have for teams. Once we have that information we can set up the cohorts. This is where you as the team GM will need to submit a roster of your 11 players, a roster that will not change for the duration of the season (sorry, Stage 2 rules).
Our goal is to make the cohorts as close in skill level as possible so that the games are competitive, and there is decent parity. There will be no realignment of teams during the abbreviated summer hockey season, World Cup style.
So we think it is absolutely key to get this as right as possible, but our hands our tied (severely) by the new regulations. Please forgive us in advance if we make mistakes or unable to have sufficient parity in your cohort.
There are some possible solutions to the parity problem of each cohort. Our plan is to place teams with known history, teams that have played against one another, into the same cohort. When this is not possible we will try to determine with the help of your team GM where the team should be placed.
Another possible solution is placing two known teams in a cohort with the idea that they can split into two (have two teams of 11 players), thus filling the cohort. This solves two potential problems, one is parity. Since the two teams will average out to the skill level of the cohort it most likely will result in a better parity.
The second, is if your team has too many players who want to play but there is a cap of 11 for the season, it may be worthwhile to add 6 or so more players to your regular roster of 16 and make two teams of 11 for the summer. Why not? This way you don’t have to say no to everyone who wants to play and will be affected negatively by the cap.
What’s more, is there is no rule preventing players in the same cohort to play on all teams in the cohorts. There is also no rule that dictates how many players can play in a single game. So some players can play on two teams in the cohort (the games will be back to back but you get more hockey) and it opens up more space for other people who want to play. The key is we have to stay under the cap of 50, how we do it is up to you as the team, and us as the league.
By now you are probably thinking, what happens, given these limitations, if our goalie is not able to make a game. Are we screwed? No, there are options.
If you find yourself with a less than reliable tender (just kidding, we know goalies, for the most part, are the most reliable members of the team!) or a situation arises when the goalie simply can’t be there see the following.
Option one, there are two other teams in the cohort that have goalies you can call upon ,and since the games will be back to back you should be able to secure at least one tender (they will have to be at their own game, right?).
There will be no conflicts for that goalie to be able to play for your team (if you are a goalie, please consider saying yes all the time to any team that is in a bind, we are all in this together and no one wants to play with 6 skaters and an empty net).
Option two, consider recruiting at least one player who can also go in net for there could be a time you will need this. If this is not possible, you can always dress a regular player in goalie gear to make it work. Won’t be pretty, but it will have to do! Also, we have set aside 2 spots in the cohort as buffer for this type of situation, and you can try to get a goalie that way (emergency situations only).
Option three – the last resort. We changed our rules, your team can now play with 6 skaters the whole game, no goalie needed. This won’t be as much fun, but at least you can get the game in and be out there. COVID times call for COVID measures.
Other spares will come from the other 3 teams in the cohort because only the members of the same cohort can play against each other while not having to social distance (physically distance if you prefer). Your team would have an advantage if it split in two, you will already know one third of all available spares. This should make it easy to make sure you have enough to play with.
If this does not work, you will have access to other team GMs in your cohort to ask for help in case you need that 6th-7th player to make a game out of it.
By the way the jersey infraction rule is now suspended, you just need to have each player (spare or otherwise) wear a unique jersey number, color (should be white or dark depending on who you are playing), logos, none of it matters. COVID times.
The NCHL – A Better Way To Play!