Ontario Hockey Federation moves to second phase of return, allows small group workouts

The Ontario Hockey Federation has released its approach for a return to hockey, stressing a four-phase program that will adhere to Hockey Canada guidelines for hygiene and social distancing and provincial government clearances for the gathering of larger groups.

While those guidelines have yet to permit full team workouts and game-type situations, the OHF informed its seven member organizations they could begin individual training and small group workouts this week.

The OHF is made up of seven partner organizations from across Ontario, including the Greater Toronto Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, the Ontario Womens’ Hockey Association, the Ontario Hockey Association, and the Ontario Minor Hockey Association.

Phillip McKee, the OHF’s executive director, said the approach aligns with the provincial government’s guidelines for social distancing and safety, and is welcome after a long wait. All seven groups were shut down March 11 due to COVID-19.

“We see it as an opportunity to engage our programming and facilities, and their need to get the ice back into their arenas, and get players back on the ice,” McKee said.

The small group workouts are part of the second phase, with the final two phases still awaiting approval from the government. The third phase will see an increase of the number of players allowed on the ice from its current limit of six (or five players and a coach or trainer), and allow scrimmages. The final phase will bring a return to traditional five-on-five hockey, and a restoration of provincial, national and international tournaments and events.

McKee said “there will be some kind of hockey in Ontario in the fall, we’re just not sure what form it will be.”

McKee mentioned that Alberta’s provincial hockey organizations opened their arenas, allowing “cohorts” of 50 players. Those cohorts must consist of the same players, with no intersection between other groups, and teams can be formed for games within each cohort.

Part of Ontario’s phased-in approach includes the appointment of a health officer and protocols for parents and players entering arenas. According to the OHF, parents and players must check with individual arenas about entrance and behaviour guidelines. There will be no dressing rooms — players must arrive dressed — and there will restrictions on what parents can bring into the rinks as well as how many parents are allowed in the stands.

The OHF will also restart its skills development certification program and offer a virtual training program beginning June 22.

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