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After a 2020-21 season filled with uncertainty, the return to a sense of normalcy for local hockey associations and Hockey Canada Skills Academies is cause for excitement

There’s excitement around rinks from coast to coast. The skates are freshly sharpened, the sticks are freshly taped and the Canadians celebrate the return of hockey.

After a season full of uncertainty last year, the return to a sense of normalcy is a welcome sight for local hockey associations and Hockey Canada Skills Academies (HCSAs).

“There is tournament planning going on and exhibition games going on. Everyone can’t wait to get started,” says Trevor Hanley, an U18 AA coach from Martensville, Sask.

All programs at the Dave Tressor School Board in Kenora, Ont., were unable to take place last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the return of our game, the Beaver Brae High School program is expected to be reinstated in February.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to re-establish the academy and get the students moving again,” says Tressor, Vice Principal of Beaver Brae.

In Athabasca, Alberta, 2020 was supposed to be the inaugural year of his HCSA at the Edwin Parr Composite School. Anticipation grew over the extended start date, but the wait paid off for the 8th and 9th graders.

“Every time someone talks to me about hockey academy, I have the dumbest smile on my face because I’m so excited,” assistant manager Brenna Liddell says. “I’m like a kid on Christmas Day, it’s so exciting. Our kids are having a great time and our parents are adjusting really well.

“I spent two weeks before the November holidays meeting each of our children who attend. We talk about academics, we talk about attendance, and then I say, “Hey, tell me how the hockey academy is doing,” and every kid smiles and says this is the best thing in the world.

For Porter Creek High School in Whitehorse, YT, she was able to manage her HCSA last year, but focused primarily on skill development due to restrictions imposed by COVID-19 safety guidelines. 19.

“I think [the students] are excited that they can do more gameplay [this season]says Amy Vermeulen, lead instructor at Porter Creek.

The Porter Creek program is taking place in the second semester of the school year, but the buzz about the return of a more normal hockey program is already affecting students.

“I see a few all the time in the hallways,” Vermeulen says. “They talk about how excited they are to finish the semester so they can start the hockey program.”

Local hockey associations across the country are also eager to regain a sense of normalcy. In Prince Edward Island, the teams are back on the ice, but the main difference this season is the time teams are given on the ice before practices or games.

Blaine Fitzpatrick, Charlottetown Minor Hockey coach for the AAA U15 women’s team, knows that socializing before hitting the ice is good for his team.

“They just wanted to get back to where they are now, to be able to hang out, have fun and chat before. We’re getting closer to that, we’re getting 30 minutes before now on a consistent basis, which gives them that fun time at the rink,” says Fitzpatrick. “The level of excitement is much higher because of the possibility of potentially having a normal season like before COVID.”

If there’s one thing players in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories are looking forward to, it’s the return of tournaments.

“We usually have the opportunity to play against the other smaller communities,” explains U7 assistant coach Patricia Parker. “They come here, we go there and then we see a bit of the city, they go to the pools, and that’s the only thing they’re really missing right now.”

Hanley says everyone is back on the ice in their association, with the U7 to U11 teams training while the U13, U15 and U18 teams have already started playing in the league or are preparing to start. Last year, Saskatchewan teams were able to practice throughout the season, but were limited to eight players on the ice at a time.

“It took a lot of guys to be creative and keep it innovative and exciting for the kids, so they’re excited to be back in full teams, working with everyone at once and definitely having the opportunity to coach in games,” Hanley said. .

Creativity and adaptation have certainly blossomed over the past 18 months. With locker room restrictions in Yellowknife, Parker has had to adapt to help his young players prepare.

“They came fully dressed, but we had to tie their skates, untie them and bring them back to the parents,” she says. “We were actually able to bond more with them because you had to talk to each kid while you tied their skates and hear what they had been up to over the weekend, or they would tell you what they had for dinner.”

Inspired by the NFL, Fitzpatrick created a playbook with all of the team’s basic coverage systems last season for every player on his team to refer to whenever they want.

“We don’t have as much time at the rink to go over the lines with the group, so
[each player] has this in a booklet at home,” he says. “They can spend their time getting to grips with that aspect of the game.”

Despite the uncertainties and challenges the pandemic has brought, communities from coast to coast are eager to use hockey to promote an active lifestyle.

“Mental health was a real concern, and I think that concern was not just across the province, but across the country,” says Tressor. “The hockey academy program provides students with a great opportunity to exercise, come back and socialize again.”

Now that Our game is backeveryone is ready to start playing the game they love again.

“It’s nice to see that they’re going to hopefully have a normal end to their minor hockey career and be able to enjoy their time at the rink with their friends,” Fitzpatrick said. “They will work hard and develop, and you never know, maybe give themselves opportunities later. I’m really excited for the kids.

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