The re-opening of rinks / hockey went smoothly by all accounts this past weekend and we want to thank all of our program organizers, coaches, players and especially parents for your vigilance and cooperation with quickly implementing the new state protocols.
While the beautiful weather encouraged some group socializing in the parking lots before and after games or practices, they dispersed quickly on their own or with a reminder of the prohibition on social gatherings. The closure of team rooms also proved to be challenging for some who did not arrive dressed or ready to play. We know this is a process to get used to this new world for our sport and it is not easy for any of us. We sincerely appreciate your patience and willingness to make adjustments to get through this difficult time.
Three issues in particular have caused a great deal of confusion and frustration at the rinks and on social media so we want to try to explain them as best we can to ensure we are all on the same page and working together to keep ice sports safe and open:
Group Socializing in the Parking Lot / Grounds
As you are already aware from our update last Friday, Section VI of the new state guidance for amateur sports (click to view) unequivocally forbids social gatherings both inside and OUTSIDE of the facility. This is not intended to hurt or inconvenience anyone, it is based on the data accumulated from contact tracing that shows this type of activity is a substantial risk for Covid-19 transmission (not just in our sport but in all sports and industries).
The state expanded the allowance for spectators specifically to allow both parents / guardians and siblings to watch the activity from inside the rink in socially distanced viewing areas. This is meant to alleviate congregating outside and allow families to stay together in a safe structured situation. It is also meant to help single parents or situations when nobody is available to care for siblings while the parent is at the rink.
We realize that some rinks have chosen to restrict or not allow spectators at all and that is their prerogative. Just know that all FMC rinks are allowing the maximum number of 2 parents / guardians and all siblings for everyone under 21 years old at all of our rinks. We want you to come in, spectate and cheer on your son / daughter / brother / sister in a safe manner. We all look forward to the day that we can get back to the socializing that is such an important aspect of our ice sports community but in the meantime we need to get through this pandemic safely.
Please plan to show up at the rink no more than 20 minutes prior to your session (game, practice, lesson, etc.) and remain in or at your vehicle until 10 minutes prior to your session when you can enter the rink. We will be placing exterior signage to remind everyone about the group socializing / gathering prohibition.
Team Room Closure
We realize the closing of the team changing rooms is a hardship for hockey participants, particularly for older age levels and adults. Again, this was not done arbitrarily and is intended solely to keep participants safe. Gathering teams in an enclosed space, particularly after a session when participants are breathing heavy, creates a significant risk for transmission. The previous version of guidance attempted to mitigate this through reducing room capacity to 50%, however that restriction was not always adhered to faithfully and even when it was the ventilation and tight space of most rink changing rooms raised serious concerns that led to the closing. Note that officials / coaches and private group changing rooms are also closed during this time.
We know first-hand that this has caused some adult groups to decide to take a break from hockey until the rooms are back open. While we regret this very much, we do understand their decision and know that everyone needs to determine for themselves the risk they are willing to assume as well as the things they are willing to give up to play the game we love in this difficult time. We hope you will come back when the rooms re-open and in the meantime, would love to hear any ideas you may have on how we might be able to change the setup to reduce the impact enough that you can come back to play.
For the rest of us who will continue playing without team changing rooms we are trying to make it as simple as possible to arrive / play / leave. We ask that you arrive to the rink no more than 20 minutes prior to your session, dressed as much as feasible and finish dressing in the vehicle, wait in your vehicle until 10 minutes prior to your session and then enter the rink through the front entrance.
Upon entering proceed directly to your team / group’s designated area in the rink. Teams will be assigned a specific area in which to put skates on and enter/exit the ice. Spectator areas will be in the same location to allow parents/guardians to assist their younger skaters and secure their shoes while they skate.
At the end of the session players / skaters should return to the designated area, change back out of skates and leave immediately through the exit designated for the area (do not exit out through the entrance). Please do not change out of equipment or otherwise loiter in the area after your session, leaving immediately will ensure maximum separation from the group after you and allow time for the rink staff to sanitize the area fully prior to the next use the following hour.
As you can see in the typical arena flow plan above, most FMC rinks will have four designated areas for skate lacing / removal (first row of seating) and spectators (upper rows of seating). All areas for participant skate lacing / removal and spectators will be physical distanced (6’ separation) and of course face coverings are required at all times. Family units (parents / guardians and siblings living in the same household) should spectate as a group physically distanced from all other spectators. Each hour the two teams/cohorts will be assigned either the A (red) and C (blue) or the B (green) and D (black) areas to ensure maximum separation between the two groups during that hour as well as the teams coming in the following hour which will use the other two areas.
Out of State Participation
Section IV of the new guidance standards forbids out of state based teams or individuals from participating in Massachusetts for both “Moderate Risk” and “High Risk” sports. Hockey as well as pair and synchronized skating are classified as high risk sports. Additionally, Massachusetts based teams may not participate in any out of state based activities. Finally, any Massachusetts based individual athlete who travels out of state must comply with the current Massachusetts Travel Rules.
Individual figure and recreational skating are considered “Lower Risk” sports and therefore the requirement is skaters coming into or leaving Massachusetts to participate must follow both the Massachusetts and home state travel rules.
We are painfully aware of the impact this has on hockey teams and programs (particularly along the border of the state), as well as on the individual players who will not be able to continue playing with their friends. We also know that there is a potential that MA based teams or even full programs may have to cancel their season because they lose these players. We want to keep every kid playing and on the ice but the reality is this restriction will likely be with us for some time and we are going to have to adjust and make the best of it. Public health experts believe this type of cross-border and prolonged travel increases the risk of transmission and must be curtailed. It is not only Massachusetts that is implementing this; many (likely all eventually) surrounding states are enacting similar travel restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of the virus during the current surge in cases. The penalty for knowingly violating this rule is the very real potential of program and/or facility suspension / closure. We owe it to the overwhelming majority of our MA based hockey community to follow this rule to ensure they can continue to play.
We want to offer our assistance to the teams that are impacted by this and either cannot play in their out of state league or are losing out on games that are normally played with teams based in other states. We will assist and coordinate scheduling ice time, officials and MA based opponents if you need that help. Please contact Mike Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or 781.312.5055 to discuss any support we can give you. This is a time that our hockey family has to come together and support each other any way we can to get through this.
Please Stay Positive and Stay Safe
Finally, for those of you who are upset and lashing out on social media and other forums, it is important to remember that WE ARE PLAYING A HIGHER RISK SPORT DURING A WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC. That fact alone should cause us to stop and appreciate what we have right now.
Getting angry and blaming Governor Baker, rink operators or program organizers might make us feel better for a moment but the reality is our state leaders have worked really hard with their public health professionals and experts to create guidelines that allow us to play safely. They understand and very much appreciate the emotional and social value that sports bring to our kids and community and they are balancing that with the real danger to health and overwhelming the hospital system if this highly contagious virus is not controlled.
Rather than getting angry and complaining, let’s show the tenacity and determination that our sport is known for and do our part to FREEZE THE SPREAD OF COVID-19. It means giving up some things that we hold dear like socializing at the rink with our hockey community, it means accepting the inconvenience of arriving at and leaving the rink dressed in our smelly hockey gear, it means taking a break from out of state tournaments and cross-border play. These are not small sacrifices and nobody likes them, but they are temporary and for the greater good of our families, friends and communities. #freezeCOVID