Playing Winter Ice Hockey In A COVID World – Registration Information For Calgary Teams (AKA – The Plan)

As far as plans go, someone once said everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face (Ok it was Mike Tyson and we are paraphrasing). Mike did get one thing right, with all this uncertainty surrounding us during the great calamity called COVID-19, how can one plan anything right now? Yet we somehow have to proceed with life and hockey.

While no one knows what will happen in the future, we are operating under the assumption that hockey will be back to some kind of normal without the draconian restrictions placed on it by the vagaries of the pandemic.

Other jurisdictions do not have cohort requirements right now, in Manitoba players can play on as many hockey teams as they want and there is no limitation on team sizes as a result. The same is true in some places in BC (we heard through the hockey grapevine that in Victoria people have been playing beer league hockey for the past 6 weeks without cohort restrictions – could be just a rumor though).

So the trend seems to be moving in the right direction in regards to what winter may look like. And thus we have decided to offer a regular winter hockey season to all our teams that will include:

  • Choose Your Schedule Option (only in the NCHL)
  • The NCHL Experience – playing hockey in a safe, fun, competitive and well organized environment
  • 30 Regular Season Games
  • 1 Guaranteed Playoff Game (every team makes the playoffs)
  • Best of 3 finals (way more games for your team)
  • 3 stop time periods, 15 minutes each
  • 2 Referees and 1 Scorekeeper at Each Game (or you get a team credit)
  • Online Stats For All Teams and Players
  • Individual Payments for Players (only in the NCHL)
  • Payment Options – one, two or monthly
  • Season Start – After September 1st, 2020
  • Season End – Before April 30th, 2021

See full season details …

“But you just said no one can tell the future, so how can you offer this and be sure it will actually happen?” you may be wondering, and rightly so. This is our plan for winter. If for whatever reason we are not able to offer you hockey in this manner come winter, we will need to adjust so we can still play. It will come down playing hockey vs not playing hockey, and we think playing hockey is always the better choice.

So here is our promise to you, if we are not able to offer the season as outlined above, and have to adjust or cancel hockey all together you will always have the option to either get a refund for the remaining games you did not get, or keep the team fees as a credit until hockey returns.

We will work with each and every team to make sure we take care of you and the wishes of your players. The same way we did this past winter season when it was abruptly cancelled, and the summer season that never happened. All teams that wanted a refund for games not played have been taken care of.

THE IMPORTANT STUFF

Today we are releasing the season and pricing information for winter. Some plans stayed the same, while others had to be adjusted a little due to increased costs from arenas. Ice costs did go up in some places, because the arenas must now sanitize surfaces more often, purchase additional PPE and have more staff.

Here is the link to Calgary Winter Team Fees and all available schedule plans. This year we are again offering 4 schedule options, Home Ice Premium (you get to draft your schedule ahead of everyone based on the order of your deposit), Home Ice (half the games same rink, same day and same time), Regular (choose your schedule) and Budget (do everything on your own to collect team fees, the cheapest league hockey option in Calgary but you don’t get to choose the schedule you get).

Registration will open on Monday July 6th, at noon MST. Pre-registered teams will have until Wednesday July, 8th at noon MST to complete the registration and join the Winter 2020-21 NCHL-Calgary Hockey Season. We strongly encourage you to provide us with a deposit at the time of registration or instructing us to apply any unused team credits on account towards your deposit. Teams that have enough credit on account are assumed to have their deposit fully paid at the time of registration.

See important deadlines here …

If you pre-registered your team earlier when we did not know which way was up, thank you for your support! That means you now have a 48 hour advantage over any other team that did not do so, and you can complete your registration ahead of these teams. Why is this important?

Teams that want to get the best possible ice times we can offer for winter (we picked up a few good ones this year) need to be at the top of the deposit order because this order determines the selection of your schedule in the schedule draft. Teams that chose Home Ice Premium option will be choosing first in the draft ahead of any other team that chose a different schedule option but we will be looking at the deposit order as well.

For example, if the first overall team in the deposit order bought Home Ice or Regular as their schedule option, it will be given a chance to upgrade to Home Ice Premium on the spot and will then be able to choose the best ice time for them, out of all available ice times or not.

If an upgrade is not selected by this team, we will go through all of the Home Ice Premium teams first so they can select their schedules, and then come back to Home Ice teams, the team that has the highest placement in the deposit order at that point will choose first, and we will continue this process until all Home Ice teams chose their schedule for the season. After that teams that bought a Regular schedule will choose their schedule in the same manner.

That being said, you get the most choice with Home Ice Premium, then with Home Ice and finally the least amount of choice is available to the teams who bought the Regular schedule option. Finally the Budget teams do not get a choice, and are simply assigned a schedule for the season. What does this mean for you?

If choice is important to you, buy Home Ice Premium and get your deposit in as quickly as you can. If you buy Home Ice, you will need to wait until teams with Home Ice Premium schedule packages have chosen their ice times.

Otherwise, if you do not care about what you get so much, and want to save money please choose the Regular schedule, because what may happen is this. Teams with either of the home ice schedule options may end up in your division, and if you are the only Regular team in that division, you will not have a choice but play on the home ice chosen by these teams. It could be good, it could be bad, so you are taking a gamble.

Oh and one more thing, we can only physically accommodate half the league for Home Ice Premium or Home Ice, because in order for us to guarantee at least half the games at the same rink, at the same time on the same day, the cut off is 50% of teams. It makes perfect sense if you think about it. So if this is important to you, please do not wait, complete your registration ASAP and put your deposit down (it is $1500 for either of the home ice options). Once we sell out, all we will be able to offer is what is left.

The NCHL – A Better Way To Play!

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.

Schedules

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.

Cohorts

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.

Spares

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!

Summer Ice Hockey Is Set To Come Back To Calgary Amid New Stage 2 Relaunch Restrictions

Another day goes by and we have more information we can share with you about the summer hockey season in Calgary (if you are in a different city and are reading this, we do not yet have information on when we can offer a summer season where you are).

The good news is we can offer a limited summer season as of July 20th in Calgary starting with the West Hillhurst Arena. This is the only facility we are able to confirm ice with at this time.

We are working on confirming our ice in the south with Cardel Rec South, formerly known as South Fish Creek Recreational Association (SFCRA) and Trico. If we are able to confirm our ice contracts this week we will be able to start the season in the south as well, possibly sooner than July 20th (there is a possibility ice could become available as of July 6th, but we would need some time to get everything set up before we can start playing).

Given the new rules and regulations placed on organizers by AHS, the following restrictions will be in place.

World Cup of Hockey Season (our version)

  • Bubble cohorts of players who can not social distance on the ice are limited to 50 players, this includes on-ice officials
  • As a result divisions will be limited to 4 teams.
  • Team rosters will be limited to 11 players (10 skaters and a goalie)
  • Each cohort will play out of a specific arena
  • Once a cohort is set, NO REALIGNMENT of teams will be possible
  • Players can ONLY PLAY in ONE BUBBLE COHORT during Stage 2 restrictions
    • This means that all spares must come from the same cohort and can not be brought from outside, including goaltenders
    • It also means that players in one cohort can not play in another cohort with us or elsewhere for the duration of Stage 2 restrictions.
  • The season will consist of five games to be played in a World Cup format
    • Three round robin games against the other three teams in the division
    • One semi final game
    • One final game for gold/silver or bronze/4th place
  • Games will not be forfeited due to a goalie not being available, teams will be allowed to play with 6 skaters on the ice.
  • Games will be played on any day of the week, with the exception of the long weekends (games can still occur on Mondays of the long weekend)
  • Season team fees are set at 1699+GST per team. (there are no schedule packages or early bird/returning team credits for the limited season)
  • Registration will open on Breakout at 1:00PM MST Wednesday June 17th, 2020 – please choose World Cup 5 Game Season – Calgary 2020 (see this and this on how to join a new season on a mobile device, for existing teams, or see this if your team is new).

Parity of each cohort may not be ideal under these circumstances and this is why we settled on a shorter season of 5 games.

11 players per team does not add up to 50 total players in the cohort because we need to have room for at least 4 officials to be part of the cohort to make sure we can staff games properly. The last 2 spots will be buffer spots to be used by teams in a cohort in case of absolute emergency, and once used no other players will be allowed to play in the cohort.

Unfortunately we are limited by the new rules and restrictions announced by AHS for Stage 2 relaunch, we have published an interpretation of the new rules earlier. The arena facilities will also have additional rules on when players can arrive, how they need to enter and exit the building and lots of other new procedures (we will keep you informed once we know what each arena requires – these may not be uniform across all arenas)

This means we can accept less teams, smaller teams, and will need to have ice on weekends. We will be balancing the schedule for the season so it is fair for everyone.

If we are able to confirm ice in the south we will offer teams to be part of a different cohort that can play in the south, provided the season has not yet started, because once the season starts we are not able to modify any of the cohorts we create. All cohorts must stay together for the duration of the season during Stage 2 restrictions.

Parity of each cohort may not be ideal under these circumstances and this is why we settled on a shorter season of 5 games. Your team will play every other team once and then play the semis and final, so if there is an issue with parity we can address it in the next cycle of the season.

Instead of locking everyone into a longer season where you will have to play other teams more often, which may not be well suited for your cohort from a competitive perspective, we decided to proceed with caution so we can fully digest the new restrictions and come up with solutions once the rubber hits the road (or in our case, the blades touch the ice).

A shorter, 5 game season is also safer from our perspective as the exposure will be more limited to other players, as opposed to when the season is longer. More games = more exposure. As we progress and find out how the new loosening of restrictions affects the spread, we’ll know if more games are possible in the next season.

It would be a shame to sign up for a long season, then find out that AHS has new rules and restriction, or worse has to shut down arenas again and move their reopening into the next stage.

It’s hard to say how things will progress in the future, and we would rather have the flexibility to adjust by doing a shorter season so we can work out the kinks for winter. This way we will be able to start Winter 2020-21 Season on time in September. Similar restrictions may still be in place then, no one knows this right now and if anyone is saying otherwise, please do not take this at par value.

These are uncertain times, and while we are trying our best to come up with a way for everyone to play hockey safely, things may change tomorrow and we will need to adjust everything again. This is the reality of the new normal, so please be patient with us as we navigate these uncharted waters ahead.

Let’s get out there, safely, and play some puck!

The NCHL – A Better Way To Play!

Playing Recreational Ice Hockey In A New World – Alberta COVID-19 Stage 2 Rules and Regulations Interpreted

On Tuesday June 9th, 2020 Premier Kenny announced that Alberta will effectively enter Stage 2 of the relaunch strategy as of Friday June 12th, 2020. Luckily for us, hockey nuts, arenas were moved from Stage 3 into Stage 2 of the relaunch and can open on Friday. Don’t get us wrong, this is great news, we will finally be able to play hockey soon(ish). That is the good news.

Now, what is the actual reality of the situation? Things are little bit more nuanced than the initial headlines would suggest. Most, if not all arenas in the province will not reopen on Friday and here is why.

The province published a very detailed list of regulations outlining how hockey arenas, and organizers must manage playing hockey during Stage 2 of the relaunch. Obviously it would be really hard for players and officials to social distance on the ice, and maintain a 2 meter distance from each other, it would be impossible to wear masks during play. The new regulations do not recommend players wearing masks during the game. (we had a pretty good chuckle about masks in pools part of the regulations published)

Anyone who says otherwise, simply did not read the regulations, and listen to the answers by Dr. Hinshaw at the announcement on Tuesday.

To address this reality, the new rules allow for bubble cohorts, or as the regulations call them, mini-leagues of 50 people, who are participating in hockey. Once a player is assigned to their bubble cohort they are not allowed to belong to another cohort all together.

We can guess the rationale for this is that by being confined to your bubble cohort of players, the spread will be limited in nature as opposed to the situation where players are allowed to intermingle with other players from a different bubble cohort. Also should there occur an infection within a cohort it would be easier to trace its origin and nip the outbreak in the bud. All reasonable.

This presents a unique set of challenges we must address as a league. 50 people in a cohort means officials too, who are not allowed to be part of a different bubble cohort once they are assigned to one. As you can see, this now limits the number of players you can have on your team, and also the number of teams we can have in a cohort. Anyone who says otherwise, simply did not read the regulations, and listen to the answers by Dr. Hinshaw at the announcement on Tuesday.

The reason why almost no ice hockey arenas will open this Friday is simple. Most if not all rinks in Alberta took their ice out when they realized that there is a real possibility of a prolonged lock-down back in April.

4 teams per bubble cohort seems to make the most sense to us, three does not work so well with needing to have a bye week, two is not enough competition, and lets not even consider one team as an option.

With 4 teams in the cohort, each team can have at most 12 players, but in reality is more like 11 (including a goalie) because there needs to be room for officials and in order to have 2 officials on the ice, we would need to have 4 in the cohort to make sure we staff the games properly and have enough of a buffer should an official become unavailable for a game.

There are many other details in the regulations we must deal with before safely returning to play. Your health and safety and the health and safety of our officials (referees and scorekeepers), our staff, facility staff, as well as anyone else that will be taking part in our offerings is paramount.

No one knows the future and we don’t pretend to either …

In our view, proceeding slower is better than rushing into things without considering all that is required, and while we want to get on the ice as quickly as possible, we need to do this safely, so that we don’t contribute to the spread of COVID. At the end of the day we all want to be playing hockey this winter, and it is the last thing we’d want to see, AHS shutting down arenas again. There is no need to get into the impacts of that outcome, but kids would be devastated if they could not play hockey come winter.

The reason why almost no ice hockey arenas will open this Friday is simple. Most if not all rinks in Alberta took their ice out when they realized that there is a real possibility of a prolonged lock-down, back in April. Why keep the ice in when no one is using it, it just cost money (electricity is not free) especially as the days get warmer. So they took their ice out. Smart.

It will take arena operators a bit of time to put the ice back in, some of the challenges we are hearing about, are with equipment and supplies needed as everyone rushes to reopen. Things like pressure washers, ice paint and a multitude of other things you need to reopen. On top of this, there are new regulations for arenas from AHS as well, in regards to what they must do as facility operators to reopen safely. It would suffice to say they will need boatloads of hand sanitizer and PPE. All this takes time.

At the end of the day we all want to be playing hockey this winter, and it is the last thing we’d want to see, AHS shutting down arenas again.

Another thing facility managers must consider are the user groups and bookings in light of the new regulations. Will the bookings needs to be more spaced out between each other? What is a realistic start date after you take into account the challenges of putting the ice back in, and how much time each user group will need to get organized before they can start offering their programs? All these are questions that must be answered now, and it will take time to put the plans together and in motion, so that arenas can reopen safely.

Based on our discussions with arena operators it is a bit of a mixed bag, some are going to open mid July (15-20), while others may not open this summer at all, and be prepared to go in the fall. Even the City of Calgary is not exactly clear on when they will be reopening arenas under their management. City of Edmonton is not taking any bookings until June 30th, and may not take any after.

Yes, things are not as simple as pie when it comes to the realities of what we have to deal with, but we are working very hard on offering a condensed summer season which may look something like this (please do not hold us to it until we announce the details and open registration but this is what it looks like for now).

World Cup style, round robin (3 games), semis and final

5 game season

4 teams per bubble cohort

11 players per team (10 skaters and 1 goalie)

Will start mid July and will go to the end of August

We still have some details to sort out but we hope we have everything ready to go for the summer season by the end of the week. We have existing contracts with arenas that we signed before COVID hit everyone, and have the first right of refusal on ice when arenas reopen. Some arenas may not reopen or may reopen too close to the end of summer, we need to understand these realities and finalize our summer ice bookings before we can open registration for teams. Our staff is in constant communications with arenas.

It would be pointless to take your money so that 5 minutes later we have to turn around and refund it. Instead we want to crystallize all details first so that everyone knows what to expect and what is possible, then open registration. In our opinion this would be the smart way to go about in an uncertain situation.

As far as the winter season goes, we are also working on season details, we hope that by then we will be out of Stage 2, and play can resume as before (no, or little restrictions in place). No one knows the future and we don’t pretend to either, this is why we decided to offer a shorter summer season, and re-evaluate things for September. We are planning to have a regular season then, but if things do not work as we think they will, we will adjust to the environment we are in. Shorter season is also safer for you the player.

Information about Winter 2020-21 Season will be coming out next week. Teams that have pre-registered will have a 48 hour window to complete registration and set up their deposits to secure their place for the ice draft (we picked up some pretty awesome ice times for winter).

This is all that we know for now. We will share more as details emerge.

Stay healthy, and safe! We’ll see you on the ice soon.

The NCHL – A Better Way To Play!

Return To Hockey Could Happen This Summer In Alberta – New COVID Regulations Released By The Province

Yesterday Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney announced that Stage 2 of the relaunch strategy will start on Friday, June 12th. The Premier also announced that organized sports and hockey rinks are now included in Stage 2 with restrictions.

This is great news! It means that we may be able to have hockey this summer after all. Hockey with restrictions is better than no hockey, any day of the week!

Some of the regulations announced by health authorities talk about set cohorts of 50 people where social distancing is not possible. Hockey falls into this category. The regulations say that these cohorts (mini-leagues) must stay together for the duration of the organized spots activity during Stage 2(read season).

We are still digesting all of the regulations put forward by the government yesterday (there are many, you can see what they are yourself here) so we can find a sustainable path forward to offer hockey to you and your teammates in a safe environment.

The health, safety and well being of our players and league officials is our number one priority.

We must be able to minimize the risk to everyone, if we can not play hockey safely within regulations provided by the government, we would rather not have hockey at all until it is safe to play (as much as it would pain us).

As we write this message to you, we are working as quickly as we can with our facility partners to put a plan in place for both the Winter Season, and possibly a version of a Summer Season starting as soon as there is ice to skate on.

Most if not all arenas took their ice out for summer once it became clear that a lock-down will be in place for an unforeseeable amount of time.

It will take arenas some time to get organized, put their ice back in and make sure facility and staff are compliant with new regulations put forward by the health authorities. We all want the same thing, return of play in a safe environment.

Once there is a plan that addresses all of the new regulations in place, we will be sending out another message announcing the details, so please stay tuned to your email and our social media.

The good news is, somehow, someway hockey will be back!

We look forward to getting back on the ice as soon as we can!

The NCHL – A Better Way To Play!