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Yellowknife multiplex reopens, but not all skaters are psyched

More than six months after a shutdown forced by the global pandemic, the Ed Jeske arena in the Yellowknife multiplex is set to open Thursday. It follows the opening of the Yellowknife Community Arena last month. 

'It's not ideal, but it's a step back to hockey,' says Kyle Kugler of Hockey NWT

Karen Brown, Kyra Powder and Chloe Dragon Smith in a photo taken last season. ‘Everybody’s pretty excited,’ says Brown. (Submitted by Karen Brown)

More than six months after a shutdown forced by the global pandemic, the Ed Jeske Arena in the Yellowknife multiplex is set to open Thursday. It follows the opening of the Yellowknife Community Arena last month. 

Yellowknife's adult recreational hockey leagues got the green light to start playing last week, said Kyle Kugler, the executive director with Hockey NWT. Kugler helped draft the return to play plans that will cover leagues including WIMPs, Oldtimers and the women's hockey league.   

Much like minor hockey, the approval allows for eight skaters per team plus goalies. Dressing rooms will be off limits; players must instead arrive and leave dressed to play. The referees will be making fewer calls, switching regular play to what some liken more to shinny. 

"It's not ideal, but it's a step back to hockey," Kugler said. 

Kugler says he's working with public health now to try to up the numbers to 11 skaters per side, which should still keep the number of people in the arenas to 25. The city's approved plan caps the number of people in the multiplex at 85, with a maximum of 25 in each arena and the DND gym and 10 in the PSAV upstairs meeting room.

Record number of women

"We're pretty excited," said Karen Brown, vice president of Yellowknife Women's Hockey. 

Last year, the league registered a record 75 women players, making up four teams, Brown said. That's after years of seeing around 25 women players a season. 

"This year, it looks like we're going to at least meet or exceed those numbers," Brown said. 

That's in spite of the fact that women won't likely be traveling to tournaments in Fort Smith, Fort Simpson or Hay River this year, usually a highlight of the season.

Yellowknife hockey players at a tournament in Fort Simpson last season. (Submitted by Karen Brown)

The picture isn't so rosy on the men's side. 

Ryan Nichols is the president of the Yellowknife Rec League, the city's largest adult hockey league. 

"Everyone's excited to get back on the ice but they're not really excited to go outside after a hockey game at -30 C or -40 C, in their gear, to drive home, you know what I mean?"

The dressing rooms — and the opportunity to hang out in them after the game — are a significant loss. 

"I think that's what most of the guys in the rec league go for now, the time in the dressing room and the stories and just you know, hanging out after the game."

'How am I gonna get to the rink?'

Some players are puzzled by the logistical hurdles. 

"My biggest concern is how I'm gonna get to the rink," says Dave Earle, a goalie. "I might have to dress in my garage and have somebody throw me in the box of a truck to drive me over there.

"And I'm not even a big guy," he added. "There's guys that are bigger than me, there's no way they're gonna get their pants on and get in a vehicle."

Cost is another issue. Fewer skaters on a team means fewer people to make up the ice fees. 

So far, two teams have pulled out of the season entirely. 

Craig's Bromley's Ace team is one of them. 

"It's gonna be tough not being able to go to the rink and enjoy some hockey with all of our friends," he said. "But it won't last forever and we'll be back on the ice in no time, I'm sure."

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