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Sundre rec hockey league numbers up this year

Teams practising in Olds for the time being
MVT stock Sundre Arena
Shawn MacNeil, president of the Sundre Rec Hockey Association, hopes teams will be able to play on home ice as soon as the local arena opens later this month. Since the weekend following Thanksgiving, they've been playing in Olds. File photo/MVP Staff

SUNDRE — Despite the difficulty of circumnavigating the numerous COVID-19 regulatory hurdles, the local recreational hockey league has been active since mid-October.  

“It’s definitely different this year than we had other years, obviously,” said Shawn MacNeil, president of the Sundre Rec Hockey Association, formerly known as the Sundre Fun Team Rec Hockey league.   

For one, the group decided not to play any teams from out of town until the provincial government can completely lift restrictions in Phase 3, MacNeil said during an Oct. 27 phone interview.  

“So, everything is being done in house. It’s a lot heavier emphasis on skill development,” he said. 

Norrie Power Skating, out of Red Deer, was hired to work with all five of the rec hockey league’s team for four weeks in a row. Later this season, games will be played in-house against teams within the association, he said.  

In previous years there has usually been four teams. But as a result of the Sundre Minor Hockey Association’s struggle to register a sufficient number to form teams at each level, some players joined the rec league.   

“We picked up quite a few kids in our tier 3 from minor this year, with minor not having much for teams,” he said.  

The rec league has a tier 1 team comprised of kids ages 4-6, a tier 2 squad of players ages 7-9, as well as two tier 3 teams of youths ages 10-12 and a mix tier 4-5 split of teens. The tier 3 teams will eventually get a chance to play each other as well as the tier 4-5 squad, he said. 

“We’ll just mix the players up and scrimmage that way until hopefully at some point we can maybe play some games against other towns.” 

Although in accordance with current rules they technically are allowed to play against other teams, the logistical hurdles involved with tracking were too onerous, he said.  

“When you end up playing out of town, and then all of a sudden if somebody has a case, and then trying to track them down and who they’ve talked to, we just decided we didn’t want to deal with that headache if something did actually happen.” 

Meanwhile, he said the association must still continue to internally track its own players. But that hasn’t stopped the association from at least being able to provide an opportunity for the players to hit the ice.  

“We’ve rented ice in Olds for the first five weeks. We were on the ice the first weekend after Thanksgiving,” he said, adding they hope to return to home ice once the local arena opens, which is expected to happen later this month.  

The association had asked whether parents preferred travelling out of town for the time being, or to wait until mid-November, and they were all willing to put in the mileage, he said.  

“Olds isn’t really that far. We looked at both Olds and Caroline, and decided that Olds just offers more if the parents want to drop the kids off and go do some shopping or something.” 

While rules have been revised and even eased a little several times at the arena in Olds, there remains a limit on the number of people allowed in the building at any given time, he said.  

“That’s the world we live in now — you have to be flexible!” he said, with a laugh.  

Initially coming into the season with a sense of uncertainty over how many players would be registered, the association actually saw an increase this year. But eight players from last year’s tier 4-5 teams decided not to return, he said, adding a few were the result of work commitments.   

“(But) at that age, they want to play games, too. And I don’t blame them — I would like to too, but it’s just not in the cards right now!”  

The rec hockey association is still accepting players, he said.  

“We never actually close our registrations.” 

Anyone who is interested is encouraged to send the association a message through its social media page.  

“We know it’s not what parents are used to. But at least we got them something to go out and play, which is what the kids needed, and wanted.”