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!

World Cup of Hockey Summer 2020 FAQ

How many teams or divisions will be able to play in your season?

  • The amount of teams that are able to sign up is only limited by ice availability. Teams will then be assigned to cohort groups containing a total of 4 teams in order to abide by the current AHS regulations.

How will you be ensuring that players only play in one cohort group as per AHS regulations?

  • The NCHL will be doing their due diligence by locking rosters and IDing players prior to the game. Teams will not be allowing spares outside of the cohort group.

What happens if we are unable to find a goalie for our game?

  • Our regular goalie rules do not apply. If your goalie is unable to make it and you are unable to pull a spare goalie from within your cohort, a team could dress a player or play six players on the ice for the duration of the game. Teams will not be forced to forfeit if they are unable to dress a goalie.

What happens if we put this team together for the season and are unable to all have matching jerseys?

  • Our regular jersey infraction rules do not apply. We only ask that teams are able to wear light (away) or dark (home) jerseys based on who is listed as home or away on the schedule. However, players should still all have their own individual numbers.

Help, my team is short. Can I bring out a spare?

  • In short, no. Groupings are limited to those already assigned to the cohort. All spare players must be sourced from the other teams within your cohort group. If you are having difficulty finding this information please reach out to the league and we will do our best to put you in touch with available players.

What tier should I sign up for?

o Tier I – No accumulation penalty shots (after 6 penalties)

o Tier II – Standard NCHL rules

o Tier III – Three goal max per player

o Tier IV – Three goal max per player & Fair Play rule (for beginner players and teams)

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!