Saskatchewan

60-plus hockey league in Saskatoon shuts down because of COVID-19 cases

Playing the game they love brings a group of Saskatoon seniors joy and camaraderie.

Playing has social and physical benefits for senior players, league member says

Rick Kopeck has been a member of the 60-plus hockey league in Saskatoon for six years. Usually members play at the Schroh Arena. (CBC/Theresa Kliem)

Playing the game they love brings a group of Saskatoon seniors joy and camaraderie.

Now four positive COVID-19 cases among players have put a hold on a Saskatoon 60-plus hockey league.

It was a something the men knew could happen, despite many precautions taken.

"Playing hockey with the guys and having someone come up positive was not a good feeling at all," said Rick Kopeck.

"Most of them are doing OK."

The former psychiatric nurse has played in the 60-plus league for six years.

League developed guidelines before restarting

Kopeck and other members developed protocols so they could start the league again at the beginning of September, after it was initially shut-down in the spring. 

"[We were] recognizing that the culture that we have been brought up in doesn't really do a lot of the safety things in the hockey rinks," said Kopeck.

"We also have been challenging ourselves in a way to see what things we've been doing in the past that need to be changed."

COVID-19 numbers in the province were lower when the league restarted than what we see now, Kopeck said. 

Some of the new regulations included HEPA filters and mandatory masks in the change room, which is kept clean with the help of electrostatic sprayers. 

COVID-19 cases shut down league

When the group learned about the COVID-19 cases among their players, they started working with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), shut down their league and started self-isolating, according to Kopeck.

The 66-year-old said he is not sure if the COVID-19 cases in the league are linked. 

"It's just too hard to know," he said.

"It could come from anywhere, really."

The executive of the 60-plus league has been discussing next steps. 

At the moment, some players want to wait at least until the new year to return to the ice, said Kopeck, while others might try earlier if the case count goes down.

"Most of the players were considering their families maybe ahead of their own well-being," he said.

"They would say, 'I'm not going to play in the new year because I don't want this to come home.'"

Three players from the Schroh 60-plus hockey League have Covid-19. Some players are still waiting for test results. Host Leisha Grebinski speaks to Rick Kopeck, a player who is also a retired psychiatric nurse, about how the league is responding and how the players are doing. 7:41

Benefits of playing senior hockey

During the pandemic, any group activity comes with some level of risk. All members of the league are 60 years or older. Kopeck believes about 20 of them are in their 80s. 

But playing also has many social and physical benefits, said Kopeck.

"We get a lot of satisfaction playing hockey," he said. 

One player had a conversation with his physician about the 60-plus hockey league, according to Kopeck.

"[The doctor]  said, you know, 'Whatever you're doing over there, keep doing it because you seem healthier and happier.'"

While the senior men wait for their teammates to recover, the near future of the league is unsure.

"On one hand you get all the benefits from being around playing the game you really want to play," said Kopeck.

"Then there's this COVID thing … so it's really kind of dicey. I would like to see the count go down."

With files from Saskatoon Morning

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