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New Hampshire Governor Pauses Amateur Hockey Statewide for Two Weeks

The New Hampshire Union-Leader reported that New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu ordered a two-week statewide shutdown of all indoor ice rinks. This is because the state identified “six ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks among hockey teams that spread to two dozen public schools”. Amateur hockey and college rinks should be able to reopen on Thursday, October 29. According to the article:

Over the past two months, the state has identified 158 cases of players and staff contracting COVID-19, including 117 linked directly to eight different outbreaks from youth hockey and another 41 cases tied to that activity. –Dr. Benjamin Chan {paraphrased by Kevin Landrigan, NH Union-Leader}

Dr. Benjamin Chan, the New Hampshire State Epidemiologist reportedly said, “We haven’t seen a lot of spread and transmission from other sports. It appears to be associated with hockey.”

This decision comes in the aftermath of last week’s discovery of a COVID-19 outbreak associated with three teams playing out of The Rinks at Exeter. The initial scope of this outbreak was 12 players who are age 16 plus one staff member from the Seacoast Performance Academy. Two teams of 14 and 15-year-old players were also shutdown as a precaution. At the time, it was thought that the earliest date that players could return was October 19.

In fact COVID-19 cases associated with hockey practice have been breaking out in New Hampshire at least since late August, as we discussed here on RinkAtlas.

Reaction to Governor’s Order is Swift on Twitter

Many members of the New Hampshire Hockey Community reacted angrily to Governor Sununu’s order. Here are a few examples:

Which is not say that some weren’t in favor of his decision:

Note to Readers

Due to a Twitter service interruption, the tweet we tried to send in the five o’clock Eastern Time hour could not be sent until almost 9pm:

QMJHL Suspends Play in Quebec

The Canadian Press reported yesterday that The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has suspended play in two of its three divisions until at least Wednesday October 28. The decision to suspend was made on Wednesday by a QMJHL body known as the Assembly of Members. This is likely the equivalent of other leagues’ boards of governors.

According to this report, The Q has two teams with significant COVID-19 exposure: The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and the Sherbrooke Phoenix had at least 26 positive cases between them after playing a weekend series against each other on October 4-5.

News of the suspension came 10 days after The Province of Quebec suspended team sports and closed sports facilities in Red Zones. Some of the QMJHL teams located in Quebec were not in Red Zones at the time of that announcement.

Update

According to Mark Lidbetter, The Junior Minister for Sports for the Province of Quebec announced C$70 million in aid to sports federations, associations, and teams. The QMJHL will get C$12 million in aid to support league and franchise operations during the lockdown. {Confirmed in Quebec gives $70M boost to sports federations to help offset impacts of pandemic.}

How Other Media Are Reporting This Story

The SuburbanQuebec announces $70 million financial lifeline to sports and recreation, Mark Lidbetter later wrote an article on the topic of the Province of Quebec’s subsidies for the industries affected by the suspension of indoor sports activity. This bill included the subsidy for the QMJHL as discussed above.

NJ Governor Murphy issued an Executive Order Allowing Hockey with No Spectators

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an Executive Order today allowing indoor ice hockey to resume with no spectators. This is Executive Order Number 187. According to the press release:

“All indoor practices and competitions are limited to 25% of the capacity of the room, but not more than 25 or less than 10 persons.  However, if the number of individuals who are necessary for practice or competition, such as players, coaches, and referees, exceeds 25, the practice or competition may proceed if no unnecessary individuals such as spectators are present.  Even if this exception applies, the number of individuals at the practice or competition cannot exceed 25% of the capacity of the room, and such limit cannot exceed 150 persons.”

Full text of Executive Order 187 on NJ.gov.

Coverage of this Story by Other Media Outlets

All indoor sports can resume in N.J., Murphy says. That includes ice hockey games, NJ.com: “…Limitations on indoor sports had become an issue in recent weeks as players, parents, and some Republican lawmakers pushed Murphy, a Democrat, to allow youth ice hockey to resume games. Hockey is typically played at indoor ice rinks, but indoor games had been barred until Monday.”

“Proponents of allowing hockey to resume argued there’s minimal risk of players contracting COVID-19 because ice rinks have strong ventilation and players make little contact with each other….”

Temporary Closure Kent State Ice Arena Has Huge Impact on Amateur Hockey

News 5 Cleveland reported Sunday that Kent State University Ice Arena was closed on September 25 until further notice, leaving area youth and amateur hockey without a place to practice. The cause of this closure is the spread of COVID-19 on Kent State’s campus. The University statement read in part:

“Due to ongoing efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, the Kent State Ice Arena will be closed until further notice, effective Friday, Sept. 25, 2020, to all users within the university and the general public….”

“The ice arena had not been opened to Kent State students or the general public for fall semester, but was being used by Kent State student organizations, several area high school hockey teams and regional hockey clubs.” –Kent State University Statement

Kent State University Ice Arena is home to Kent State University’s ACHA Division I and Division III Men’s Hockey Teams as well as youth hockey programs such as the Kent Cyclones Youth Hockey Program.

In places like Kent, Ohio, the nearest rink is 30 to 60 minutes away if your local rink is closed for any reason. This could have a devastating effect on ice hockey and figure skating if closures like this become more wide-spread in COVID-19’s expected second wave.

Hundreds of Youth Hockey Players in Maine and NH Forced to Quarantine After Referee’s Positive COVID-19 Case

The Portland Press-Herald reported Thursday that 400 people in Maine and New Hampshire have been quarantined as a result of a positive COVID-19 test on a referee who officiated 8 youth hockey games in two days on October 3 and 4. According to the article, “The games were played on Saturday and Sunday at the Biddeford Ice Arena, North Yarmouth Academy and Merrill Fay Arena in Laconia, N.H., the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.”

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC also said:

“If you or a family member was on the ice for one of these games, you should consider yourself a close contact of someone with COVID-19. You should quarantine yourself for 14 days since your exposure on the ice.”

The article lists the specific games that the infected referee officiated, including arenas where they took place and the times of the games.

RinkAtlas has previously reported on situations where close contact analysis on infected participants in hockey wasn’t properly done (see the article about the USPHL below).

It appears that the Maine CDC is taking the complete opposite approach by considering everyone who participated in games where an infected person was on-ice as close contacts.

The other issues that this case points out are:

  1. The regulations are unclear regarding whether full amateur hockey games can be played in Maine. The Press-Herald reported in a related article that Youth Hockey isn’t permitted to play inter-squad games under Maine’s current community sports guidelines. In another article, it discusses the debate about Maine’s community sports guidelines, which appear to be recommendations, but the Department of Health and Human Services discusses as if they are regulations.
  2. The tendency by youth hockey associations to employ a small number of certified USA Hockey officials to officiate relatively large numbers of games is an additional risk. One infected official participated in 8 youth hockey games in two days. A small number of officials working a large number of games in a local area on a weekend is fairly common in the United States. But it is an increased risk during a pandemic like the one we are experiencing at the moment.
  3. The estimated number of people exposed according to the Maine CDC exceeds the maximum number of players on the rosters in eight games. If each team was different in the eight reported games, then the total number of players theoretically exposed would be 320 (8 games x 2 unique teams x 20 player roster). If you add four bench personnel per team, a time keeper, a score keeper, two penalty box attendants, and two referees, the number is 320 + 112 (8 games x [8 + 1 + 1 + 2 + 2]) = 432.

Thanks to Jim Britt for pointing this story out to us.

Updates on This Story

The Maine Amateur Hockey Association cancelled all games through at least Tuesday, October 13. Mike Keaney its president said, “I apologize for the late notice but the board feels that it is in the best interest of all involved to cancel until we can get clarification from the Maine Department of Human Services regarding playing this season. Attempts to reach them for clarification were unsuccessful this afternoon {Friday}.”

RinkAtlas Arena Directory Updates

USPHL Weekend Series in Marietta Georgia Called a “Super-spreader” COVID-19 Event

The Charlotte News & Observer reported on October 3 that the Junior Hurricanes USPHL Premier and Elite Teams traveled to Marietta, played the Atlanta Mad Hatters, and dozens of players from both teams tested positive for COVID-19 shortly thereafter. The series took place at Atlanta Ice House in Marietta, approximately 24 miles northwest of Downtown Atlanta.

The sequence of events that led to this large outbreak are well documented by sports columnist Luke DeCock. In summary:

  • “Several players and staff {from the Junior Hurricanes} tested positive for COVID-19 ahead of the trip and were left at home”
  • “players and staff who tested negative were allowed to travel and play”
  • after the series ended, “more players on the Junior Hurricanes teams tested positive” along with “at least 19 of their opponents with the Atlanta Mad Hatters”

RinkAtlas initially held off on reporting about this story, because it’s difficult to determine exactly how much either team knew about the apparent outbreak before the first game in Marietta that took place on Saturday, September 26.

However, in retrospect, it seems clear that the Junior Hurricanes management was aware that several people had tested positive for COVID-19 before they left on the road trip. In situations like this, an assessment needs to be made of close contacts to the people who had already tested positive, and those people need to be quarantined immediately.

What happened instead was the USPHL Testing Policy was followed, which “Require all players and team personnel to take a COVID-19 rapid test within 24 hours of departing on any overnight trip in which the team will be traveling within team bus/vans.”

The difference between quarantining close contacts and only quarantining people who test positive by a COVID-19 rapid test is significant, and that is likely to be the reason for most or all of the infections in the aftermath of the initial COVID-19 infections on the Junior Hurricanes.

RinkAtlas Arena Directory Updates

  • Atlanta Ice House is added as the 4,691st arena in the RinkAtlas Arena Directory. We believe that it is the 11th arena where ice hockey can be played in the State of Georgia, although a few of the arenas we list are large sports arenas, so the true number is likely to be somewhat smaller.

 

NJ Assemblymen Urge Governor Murphy to Let Hockey Play

CentralJersey.com reports Assemblymen Ron Dancer (R-Burlington, Monmouth, Middlesex, Ocean) and Kevin J. Rooney (R-Bergen, Essex, Morris, Passaic) are calling on New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy to Let Hockey Play and allow athletes to return to ice rinks.

Assemblyman Dancer said, “Ice hockey officials have consulted with medical professionals to design a safe return to the rink. I have spoken with parents, players and local associations and they are confident we have the protocols in place to protect against the transmission of the coronavirus. As programs like football start back up, it is illogical to exclude ice hockey, a sport with no skin-to-skin contact and players that don’t come into contact with the puck.”

In their press release, Assemblymen Rooney and Dancer went on to say, “New Jersey’s Department of Health defines hockey as a medium risk sport. Beginning July 8, no-contact ice hockey practices were permitted to return indoors, however, sports in the medium risk category are currently only able to participate in competitions outdoors. We are urging Gov. Murphy to work with us. Be a team player and allow ice hockey athletes to responsibly resume indoor competitions and scrimmages.”

 

PA Governor Wolf Lifts Gathering Limits on Indoor and Outdoor Venues, Apparently Clearing the Way for Hockey

The Tribune-Review reports Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf increased state-wide gathering-size limits tied to indoor and outdoor venue sizes. This announcement would seem to clear the way for unmodified ice hockey games to begin as early as this Friday.

According to the report:

“Indoor events are limited to 10% to 20% of capacity, depending upon the venue’s size, and outdoor events can admit 15% to 25%.”

“The largest venues are capped at 3,750 individuals indoors and 7,500 outdoors.” –Tribune-Review’s Report

On first read of these revised regulations, this would seem to greatly benefit venues such as Hersheypark Arena, which could hold hockey games with hundreds of spectators and still comply with the guidelines. The players, coaches, and officials are also distanced significantly from the spectators.

But 10% of capacity at the typical indoor, single-sheet ice rink would most likely be 50 or greater, which is the magic number for playing an amateur hockey game with two 20-player rosters plus coaches, a crew of officials, and minor officials such as the score-keeper and time keeper.

Quebec Suspends Team Sports and Closes Sports Venues in Red Zones

The Montreal Gazette reported The Province of Quebec suspended team sports and closed fitness centers and gyms in Red Zones beginning October 8 for at least 20 days. According to the article provincial Junior Education Minister and Minister of Sports and Leisure Isabelle Charest made the announcement, and said, “For three weeks we’ll focus on individual training. We want to limit those contacts to make sure kids don’t get COVID, go back to school and contaminate other kids.”

How is Amateur Hockey Affected?

In COVID’s second wave washing over sports activitiesThe Suburban reported, “Originally Hockey Quebec was looking at entering Phase Six by October 15, now it will only be discussed come November 16. ‘We have to live with this,’ Andy Brookman, president of Hockey West Island and vice-president responsible for Hockey Feminin for Lac St. Louis said. ‘It is necessary and I feel we’ve done a very good job prior to today at keeping our members safe. Hopefully it’s just a blip.’ That 20 day blip could still allow double letter hockey to start by mid November and single letter programs to hit their targeted start date of December 1 for play.”

This puts all of Hockey Quebec in a similar position to that of the Greater Toronto Hockey League, except that Hockey Quebec is initially pausing for a month, while the GTHL has paused until at least January 1, 2021.

What are Red Zones?

Currently the cities of Montreal and some suburbs and Quebec City and some suburbs are Red Zones, as are portions of the Gaspésie. These areas are also described as “Level 4-Maximum Alert” on the Map of COVID-19 alert levels by region on the Province of Quebec’s website.

What is Phase Six?

Phase 6 refers to the sixth and final stage of Hockey Quebec’s Plan de Retour au Hockey (Back to Hockey Plan) which involves playing competitive hockey games with full teams.

Update

On October 16, Mark Lidbetter wrote an article in The SuburbanQuebec announces $70 million financial lifeline to sports and recreation This is about the Province of Quebec’s subsidies for the industries affected by the suspension of indoor sports activity. This bill included a subsidy for the QMJHL as discussed in QMJHL Suspends Play in Quebec.

PIHL Publishes 4×4 Playing Rules to Allow Hockey Games to Proceed in Western PA

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League, a USA Hockey-sanctioned hockey league aligned with schools and based in the Pittsburgh area, published its 4×4 Playing Rules Modifications to allow their regular season sub-varsity schedule to begin play this week.

PIHL Middle School and JV 4x4 Rule Modifications
PIHL Middle School and JV 4×4 Rule Modifications

These rules are an attempt to conform scholastic ice hockey to the current Pennsylvania government mandates as well as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Guidelines. Pennsylvania Governor Wolf previously ordered that hockey arenas limit participation in a game or practice to 25 participants. So the PIHL is

  • increasing the number of periods in a game from three to four,
  • dividing rosters roughly in half, and
  • reducing the number of players on ice to four-per-team plus a goaltender.

The intent is to maximize the number of players who can participate in games and keep the game as close to a regulation hockey game as possible.

What About PIHL Varsity Hockey?

Sources in Pittsburgh say that the PIHL varsity hockey season is in flux. Many coaches, players, and officials do not want to play 4-on-4, and have considered pushing back the regular season as far as January 2021. There is some talk now that the season may start as early as November, but it’s difficult to see how that could occur without adopting similar rules modifications.

Reasons for These Rule Modifications and All This Uncertainty Around Play

All of these changes and uncertainty is the result of the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Wolf’s Executive Orders limiting indoor sports activities, and the recent court case known as County of Butler et al vs Wolf et al.

In Butler vs Wolf, the plaintiffs argue that the restrictions on number of people at indoor events and the designation of some businesses as essential or non-essential are unconstitutional. Most recently The 3rd Circuit stayed a ruling in the case that some of Wolf’s executive orders were unconstitutional, resulting in the reimposition of the 25-participant limit.

Other Leagues in Pennsylvania Have Developed Similar Rule Modifications

The Delaware Valley Hockey League, a youth hockey league in the Philadelphia area, has also developed rule modifications that are believed to be similar to those being implemented by the PIHL.