TEAM ROSTER ENIGMA SOLVED FOR WINTER HOCKEY, AND HERE ARE THE DETAILS

We have been working in very close communication with all NCHL facilities and have been playing through many different scenarios on how we can get this upcoming season online while adhering to ‘return to play protocol’ outlined by Alberta Health & Safety, Hockey Alberta and Hockey Canada.

The good news is we have a plan!

This new plan will address two major concerns that you told us are very important to deal with. Larger roster sizes (more people per team, less fees) and secondly, larger division sizes (more teams to play against, better parity).

We are happy to announce have found a way to play hockey in as normal of an environment as allowed by the safety protocols. We will NOT have to limit divisions to four team (11 player rosters) in order to stay within cohort requirements. We will be playing 5 v 5 hockey this winter in a safe way.

How will this work?

We will be grouping teams into divisions of six teams (two groups/cohorts of three per ‘rotation’). Each team will play a series of four games in a rotation.

As teams complete their final games of the rotation they will enter into a 14-day (minimum) ‘isolation period’ while the remaining teams continue to play until they have played their four games.

Once teams have completed their isolation period, the division will be restructured with two new groups of three (one new team per group) and each team will continue again to play two games each against the teams in their grouping.

This will continue in the same manner throughout the remainder of the season or until we have word that things can return to ‘normal’.

Sounds complicated?

It is! That’s why we’re figuring it out for you, and that is why it has to taken us a while to get the details out to you. Thank you for your patience.  

It will all make sense once you have your set team schedule. The basics are: you play four games then you take a minimum 14 day break, rinse, wash, repeat.

You can have rosters of up to 16 players (per rotation), after an isolation period you can add/remove as many players as needed as long as the team roster doesn’t exceed 16 players during each rotation period.

Why is this a better solution than other options out there?

There are three very good reasons.

Firstly, fees. If you have less players on a team, the team fee has to be spread out among less players. Since it does not matter if there is 1 person or 40 people on the ice at the same time, the base cost remains the same and team fees don’t change. Less players on the team, more fees per player.

The second reason is roster sizes and spares. If you are only allowed 11 players it will surely be the case that you will need to call spares. That will be a hard thing to do on a nightly basis and actually will be impossible after a while when the space in the cohort is exhausted. In our plan after each 4 game sequence cohorts reset, and more players become available. You will also need less spares since you can use up to 16 spots per 4 game rotation.

Lastly, when things go back to normal, and restrictions are relaxed or lifted you won’t have to remake your team, charge players more to play or change anything really about your team! We will be ready to resume hockey as normal without having to turn the ship around.

Will we still have ‘Home Ice’?

Unfortunately, no. We will not be able to offer any upgraded packages at this time. All teams will have a ‘regular’ schedule which will be a mix of many different ice times, days, arenas, within their conference.

Although, you will definitely want to keep your credit on account if you have selected an upgraded package, as we will rebuild the season once we are clear to resume normal conditions. You will be able to pick your Home Ice schedule then.

Once the season has been completed, we will then issue prorated refunds to each team for the portion of the season that packages were unable to be fulfilled.

You may choose to receive a refund for the upgraded portion of your package now, but if you do, you will no longer have that package when we resume play under normal conditions, and will lose your pick position.

Will we still pick schedules?

Yes! Teams will get to choose from available schedules that have been generated specifically for their division. The team in the division with the earliest deposit order will get to pick first from a selection of six schedules, the second team will get to pick from the remaining five schedules, third will pick from the remaining four and so on.

Will there still be a schedule draft?

No. Since we have social distancing restrictions, it would be very difficult logistically to get us all together in one place at one time. Schedule selections will be sent out to all team GM’s and teams will be asked to send in their schedule selections in order of preference.

Will there be realignment?

Yes, although it will be a much more complicated procedure than it would be in a normal season, we will be moving teams as required. This may mean a possible extension of the isolation period for the teams that are moving into new divisions. During the holiday break (around Christmas) we will also look at a major realignment for all divisions if required.

Do we have to sign a special waiver?

All players will be required to ensure they have completed the most current NCHL player waiver on the Breakout app as well as the NCHL COVID-19 screening waiver.

Also, depending on which conference your team is in and where you play, you may be required to fill out an additional waiver for certain facilities.

Do we have to wear a mask?

As per Alberta Health & Safety guidelines, all league participants will be asked to wear a mask upon entering any facility and to be worn at all times within the facility except when entering the arena playing area (AHS does not recommend wearing a mask while participating in intense physical activity).

What else do we have to do to ensure we are following protocol and being safe?

Each facility is unique and may or may not have their own set of independent guidelines, rules or protocol for their facility. We will send more detailed information as required prior to season startup.

When is season startup?

The tentative first day of games for the 2020-2021 Winter season is September 10, 2020.

Lets Play Hockey!

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!