Saskatoon·Updated

Sask. minor hockey, soccer communities anxiously awaiting word on return to play

Minor sports organizations in Saskatchewan are waiting for guidelines and dates from the provincial government and health authorities about when youth will be allowed to return to action.

Province has yet to announce plans for the return of organized sports

Saskatchewan's minor hockey associations are among the province's minor sports bodies waiting for return-to-play guidelines from the provincial government. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Minor sports organizations in Saskatchewan are trying to make return-to-play plans without knowing when that will happen or what their sports will look like.

The province hasn't released any guidelines around organized sports.

It has said the earliest they could take place would be in Phase 4 of the provincial reopening plan, but no dates have been announced.

On Monday, Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab stated that guidelines for sport teams, still being developed, would restrict kids to only practising within a certain group and at most "cohorting" with one or two teams within the same area to play games.

But he said anything which would include multiple teams playing against each other — which could include leagues and tournaments — would be too risky.

'Pure speculation'

Hockey Regina executive director Blair Watson said until the government says more, there are a variety of forms minor hockey could take.

"Honestly, it's all pure speculation right now," he said. "It could be anywhere from three-on-three to four-on-four to regular hockey to just skills. There's a whole wide gamut of possibilities."

He said the organization has a general idea of what the game could look like when it returns, but there won't be any firm contingency plans made until it receives something more concrete from the authorities.

"We'd be going bonkers thinking of all those different kinds of scenarios," he said.

"I've got friends in the golf industry and when they were looking at all that, they said they were going stir crazy mapping all the potential scenarios way back in February, and all the 'what ifs'."

Watson said registrations for the fall opened up on June 1 — and his organization is proceeding as if the season will start on schedule until it hears otherwise.

"They just want to get back doing something. That's the biggest thing that I've been hearing," he said.

"Kids have been sitting around for three months and they're getting antsy. They just want to get back and be kids."

Kelly Boes, the executive director of the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association, said his organization has to plan to have hockey ready to go in the fall as it normally would.

"The way we look at it, it's a lot easier to take a few steps back then have to scramble at the last minute to get things going," he said.

Bench guidelines will dictate format, roster size

Boes said the organization will be prepared to go with whatever format is needed to get kids back on the ice, but there are too many variables to try to predict what that will look like.

For example, he said roster sizes — and subsequently the game's format — will be dictated by physical distancing requirements on benches.

"If you have a full 17-player roster, you tend to have 11 players on the bench and coaches," he said. "So that would make it difficult to have five or six feet between every participant."

On Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Soccer Association released its "Return to Soccer" plan , which details a phased-in approach to get back to the game.

It said a return to training would be split into two phases — the first with no contact (anything less than two metres between participants) and the second with minimal contact, which could include one-on-one to three-on-three small-group activities.

Physical distancing measures would be further relaxed in a third phase, with the introduction of one-on-one to seven-on-seven game formats and the recommendation to keep the competition "in-house" versus playing against different clubs.

The fourth phase would involve the lifting of all physical distancing measures and the return to regular game formats.

Dan Kelly, the programs co-ordinator with Saskatoon Youth Soccer, said the return to training would start small.

"So the initial beginnings are very much within the zones or clubs themselves in the city," he said. "They'll be doing basically individual training."

He said training sessions would involve individual stations with physical distancing in mind.

"I think people are just tired of being at home," he said. "So even if it's individual training at first, I think people would be happy to get out and do something."

'Small-sided games'

He said the main change in the game when it first comes back will be fewer players on the pitch.

"What we term it in soccer is 'small-sided games,'" he said. "That would be the primary iteration of what the game would look like to start with."

Kelly said his organization received over 600 responses to a survey it distributed about a month ago to gauge members' feelings about a return to play.

"The most concerning thing I think people were looking at was potentially a second wave and how to return safely," he said. "So I think those are pretty top of mind when we get back."

In a June 5 member update, the Saskatchewan Soccer Association said "optimism continues to grow that we will see the pitch at some point this summer."

In a tweet sent on June 4, the Saskatchewan Hockey Association said it was preparing for when government and health authority restrictions are lifted, and rinks and recreation facilities are allowed to reopen.

It promised more details regarding the association's "return to hockey" plan would come soon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Provost

Journalist

Kelly Provost is a newsreader and reporter with CBC News in Saskatoon. He covers sports, northern and land-based topics among general news. He has also worked as a news director in northern Saskatchewan, covering Indigenous issues for over 20 years. Email him at kelly.provost@cbc.ca.

With files from Bonnie Allen and Adam Hunter

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