Let the games begin.
The Saskatchewan Hockey Association announced Saturday that the official go-ahead had been given for the start of Phase Two of their Return to Hockey plan, meaning exhibition games can begin taking place as of Oct. 17.
That includes the Moose Jaw Warriors in the Sask AA Hockey League, who will take the ice in a pair of exhibition games on Sunday afternoon -- the 13U Warriors will be facing the Swift Current Legionnaires at 12:15 p.m. at the Kinsmen Arena, the 15U Warriors will play Swift Current at 2:30 p.m. at the Bert Hunt.
There will still be a bit of a wait for competition for the younger age categories, though, as the U11 and U9 teams will be allowed to start play on Nov. 15 and the U7 division on Dec. 1.
“It’s nice, we have two games this weekend here in town, so it’s exciting to get hockey going,” said Moose Jaw Minor Hockey president Chris Flanagan. “It’s exciting for the fans to get back into the rinks and for kids to get back on the ice and get that compete level up.”
As one might expect with the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be plenty of regulations that will have to be followed for spectators.
The first and primary rule -- especially with the increasing load of cases in the province -- is all spectators must wear masks at all times. That includes entering and exiting the building and while watching the game. In addition, physical distancing will be strongly encouraged for those from separate households.
Arena capacity has been capped at 75 spectators at the Bert Hunt and Kinsmen Arenas and 40 at the Wally Boshuck, with a limit of two family members per player in order to stay under that limit.
“They’re allowing us that for the games tomorrow and the city will be updating their policies and protocols on Monday and letting us know of any changes,” Flanagan said.
Each team will have a ‘COVID captain’ and fans will be asked to sign in to facilitate contact tracing should an outbreak occur.
“We just want to be safe, be responsible and be smart,” Flanagan said of all the regulations. “We don’t want to rush into things, because everyone’s safety is our number one priority here. We need to follow the rules, because if we don’t follow the rules we won’t be allowed back on the ice… It’s different with people wearing masks and having to sign in, but that’s the norm now and what we have to do going forward.”
Further scheduling for the AA teams is currently underway by SAAHL and Sask Female AA Hockey League officials, the same for the Moose Jaw AAA Warriors and the Sask Male AAA Hockey League. They play their first exhibition game on Oct. 25 at Mosaic Place.
House league games are also being scheduled with play there expected to start in November.
“We have to take it game-by-game and see how things progress from there,” Flanagan said. “Something might happen and we’ll have to take a weekend off. That’s just kind of how things are now, but we’re going to do our best to keep everyone safe and keep everyone playing.”
For a look at all SHA rules and regulations, click right here.