The Alberni Valley Non-Contact Hockey League has suspended play under provincial health orders despite having a strict COVID-19 safety plan. (FILE PHOTO COURTESY TREVOR ZADO)

Adult sports shutdown ‘tough pill to swallow’ says Alberni hockey league president

Hockey, curling suspend play under new provincial COVID-19 orders

All games in the Alberni Valley Non-Contact Hockey League have been suspended as part of a temporary ban on adult sports in B.C. The ban, issued Dec. 3 by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, applies to all adult recreational sports and includes curling and hockey.

Henry had on Dec. 2 suspended indoor adult sports and on Dec. 3 expanded the suspension to include outdoor sports.

Trevor Zado, president of the AV-NCHL and a member of the Integral Hockey Pucks, suspended the league Wednesday prior to the 8:15 p.m. and 10 p.m. games.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “We’ve kept our cohort levels to Phase 2,” and the rules for different age levels and activities is confusing.

READ: Outdoor and indoor adult team sports banned as B.C. battles surge in COVID-19 cases

Henry said guidance that had been in place earlier wasn’t sufficient to keep people from spreading COVID-19 in some settings. “We do know that indoor group activities, whether it’s team activities or group fitness activities, are much higher risk right now,” she said in her Wednesday afternoon press conference.

She specifically mentioned an “oldtimers” hockey team that travelled to Alberta for a game and returned home only to spread COVID-19 among their community.

Zado said a few “bad apples” are ruining it for others who have worked hard to put safety plans in place.

“Our safety plan is cutting edge,” he said, adding that it is unfortunate Henry has blanketed the entire adult hockey community with the same rules. “I think it’s wrong that for a couple of bad apples we have to suffer. It’s so important we have some aspect of normality.”

The NCHL organized into four cohorts of four teams each, and limited teams to 15 players each. Games comprise five players on the bench and six on the ice including goaltenders. A mask policy was implemented for everyone except those on the ice, and time in the arena was limited.

“In our action plan there’s 15 minutes before game time, six feet apart in the dressing room. After the fact we have that 15-minute bubble to leave. Some guys come dressed (in uniform) and leave dressed,” said Zado, who began working with the league’s governing body and insurance company in July on a COVID-19 safety plan.

Port Alberni’s over-45 and women’s recreational hockey leagues opted out of the 2020-21 season, Zado said, although a number of female hockey players were picked up by AV-NCHL teams with the proviso they only play for the one league this year.

About five percent of players in the league who live in Courtenay, Parksville or Nanaimo are unable to play this year because of travel limitations the league imposed to keep their cohorts small, Zado said.

“All these things have made (our rink) a safe place.”

Zado said games will be suspended at least until Dec. 31 according to correspondence he received from Alberni Valley Multiplex staff. He didn’t know when the league might start up again in the new year. “I’m going to take it day by day.”

READ: Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Play at the Alberni Valley Curling Club was suspended Wednesday night amid confusion over the orders. Those who gathered for regular Wednesday night league games decided to cancel the 7 p.m. game before Curl BC issued anything, said Stefanie Weber from the AVCC executive.

“Based on information we received today, we are 100 percent paused,” Weber said. The curling season started late—near the end of November—and opened as a members-only affair, with a mask mandate for curlers, no outside teams visiting and no spectators. The curling club already cancelled all bonspiels for the year and conducted a member survey before deciding to open to league games.

“The intent was to provide as much comfort to our players that wanted to come play as we could.”

Weber is hopeful play will be able to resume in early January 2021, following the club’s regular Christmas break. “We intend to reopen Jan. 4 depending on public health orders that are in place at that time,” she said.

RELATED: Another 694 diagnosed with COVID-19 in B.C. Dec. 3

After the upcoming weekend’s pandemic results are analyzed, Henry will announce Dec. 7 whether current restrictions on travel, private gatherings and team sports are to be extended, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

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