Skating in Ontario’s second lockdown


By Allie Leask


Audio: The sounds of an Owen Sound hockey game

Allie Leask: Walking into the Paisley arena this hockey season has a different feel to it. What used to be filled with cheering fans and chattering teams is now a quiet rink filled with the smell of watered down bleach and muffled chat behind a mask. Dale Steinhoff, a player for the Old Timer team in Arran Elderslie, is trying his best to handle the change of environment.

Dale Steinhoff: At the start of the season, it was a little problematic in that some guys just — our hockey group is retirees, farmers, shift workers, kind of that mix, and we older guys — a lot of us don’t accept change particularly well. You were — you were to dress at home. You were only let in 15 minutes before your ice time, so you know you had time to get your skates on basically and get out. And it was the same afterwards. There were no showers, you had 15 minutes to come in, kind of cool down, get your skates off and, and exit the building.

Allie Leask: In the seasons before COVID-19, recreational hockey players usually came to the arena 30 to 45 minutes before their ice time for a chance to catch up with their teammates and take their time getting changed. But these restrictions were nothing compared to what they were about to face. On December 26, Ontario went into a provincial-wide lockdown. This abrupt stop took its toll on a community that was already working hard to keep up with the large amount of restrictions in their sport. Dale can feel the anticipation from his fellow players to get back out on the ice.

Dale Steinhoff: I’m starting to get phone calls. “Have you heard anything?” You know, like, “What do you think is gonna happen?” And Arran Elderslie is one of the communities that have kept their ice in. So for us, at least, there’s, there’s still hope.

Allie Leask: In times of stress and uncertainty, hockey players will turn to the ice to escape their current reality. But for almost two months, they weren’t given that opportunity. According to a 2019 study by researchers at Oregon State University, players in a team sport are less likely to report anxiety and depression compared to individual sport players. This could be because individual sports are played for goal-oriented reasons and team sports are played more for fun. This is why it’s  important for recreational hockey players to have different socially and physically engaging activities to do during times when they can’t be out on the rink. As the manager of marketing and communications for the Owen Sound Attack and being a recreational player himself, hockey is a huge part of Greg Hoddinott’s life.

Greg Hoddinott: At the end of the day, it was my sanity. Hockey has always been for me, from the time I was really young — and backstory on me is I lost my dad at the age of 12. And the night of his funeral I had a hockey game, and I went to it, because that was my refuge, that was my place away from all the things that stressed me out and has been ever since and even, really, before that.

Allie Leask: The provincial lockdown wasn’t  the only thing taking away arenas from recreational hockey players. Sherri Walden is the director of parks, recreation and culture for the Town of Hanover. She made the tough decision to take out the only ice Hanover has to offer its players.

Sherri Walden: Prior to ice installation for fall, our arena floor was being had been set up as a recovery centre for pandemic response, and that remained from April through ’til early October.

Allie Leask: On October 13, the recovery centre was removed so the ice could be put back in for hockey and ringette teams. Sherri says they are prepared to start up the recovery centre again if necessary.

Sherri Walden: On January 16, council held a special meeting, and at that meeting, they passed the motion and directed staff to remove the ice so that the arena floor of the P&H Centre can be used for pandemic response at the direction of Grey Bruce Public Health. Basically, the plan is for our arena floor of the P&H Centre to be set up as a mass immunization hub in the coming weeks. So, our ice rink will not be reopening after the second shutdown period.

Allie Leask: Grey Bruce Public Health Manager Andrew Barton says the arena floors that are used for mass immunization will be called Hockey Hubs.

Andrew Barton: It’s the plan to, to do mass immunization using ice surfaces. Obviously, that’s something that we have in Grey Bruce, and thankfully, you know, a lot of rural communities across the province have. And there are certain advantages to the plan that we have in place in terms of the efficiency of how we can do those, those clinics. So, yeah, the hockey, hockey hub is the name that we’ve coined because (a) it uses the ice surface and (b) I think it’s kind of a made-in-Canada, you know, a made-in-rural-Canada solution. I should state, though, right now that, you know, obviously, it’s still it’s still draft to some extent.

Allie Leask: Along with the Hanover P&H Centre, Grey Bruce Public Health is hoping to use Kincardine’s Davidson Centre and Owen Sound’s Bayshore Centre as hockey hubs once there are enough vaccines. Alison Swan, who plays on the Owen Sound women’s rec league, is grateful that her city has three ice pads so she can continue playing after lockdown. Alison has played hockey for over 20 years, so she’s used to being out on the ice at least three times a week.

Alison Swan: I’m not a big gym person, so hockey to me was one of my main sources of exercise, and I really like to give it when I’m on the ice. You know, just go for a good skate. I also like the camaraderie. We have some really good people out there, and being the fact that I work from home remotely … that’s not going to change anytime soon. So, it’s really nice to be able to see people and interact with them outside of my household.

Allie Leask: As Alison has mentioned, recreational hockey is more than just exercise. It’s time to socialize with friends and let go of daily stresses. Greg has already told us how important hockey was for him as an outlet in his youth, and it has been just as important for him in his adult life.

Greg Hoddinott: If it was just a lockdown and, you know, the kids have gone back to school in, at the start of January, it probably would have … probably would have been better. But I know that the stress level that I had going, you know, up until a week, week and a bit ago was extremely high and with no outlet, right? Like, going for a walk is great. But for me, that’s not necessarily a stress reliever. It doesn’t clear my head the way I use the arena as the example, you know, when I get into the arena and or when I, my skates hit the ice, I’m in the element of playing. I don’t worry about anything else. And then, you know, it clears your head whereas you’re going for a walk isn’t the same thing. For me, for some people, it may be, and, you know, yes, those tools are OK. But yeah, it definitely has taken a toll not being able to play and, you know, I lose that outlet. I probably have a bit of a shorter fuse and don’t have as much patience as I should. But that’s again the nature of, of where we are.

Allie Leask: Since finishing her BA at the University of Waterloo, Courtney Hepburn has been working from home on her Master’s degree at Western University. Since universities and colleges across Ontario have suspended all team sports, Courtney has been playing recreational hockey with Alison Swan out of Owen Sound.

Courtney Hepburn: It is a different age group that I’m used to playing with, because the people are a lot older than me. But it’s still fun just to be able to get out and skate, and teams are smaller with restrictions. I found the rec league pretty casual. And it was just, like, a good little bit of exercise, but not really, didn’t make a big difference in my physical like well-being. But it was really nice to get out and the sense of competition is really nice. So, not having that was definitely something that I missed and I always look forward to Sunday morning hockey. So, yeah, I definitely think it’s been more boring without it for sure.

Allie Leask: Business student at Conestoga College Brensen White is also staying home while classes are online. Before the lockdown, he played pick-up hockey in Durham once a week to take his mind away from the stress of his classes.

Brensen White: I got to play hockey with my dad and my sister, which was great. And then getting to see friends and people I knew in the community at least once a week, like, it’s good to socialize with other people and feel like the world is normal for change. Mentally, it’s something that I put a lot of energy in. And it’s something that I use to help de-stress. So, obviously, without that, it’s something that kind of adds stress to my life. Without that, I kind of have to try and find other ways to fill that gap.

Allie Leask: The men on the Old Timers team miss socializing with their teammates, but some of them are also worried what the lockdown will do to their physical health. In 2018, researchers at the University of British Columbia found three reasons why older men continued physical activity well into their 60s. They say they do it for their health, because it feels good, and because it gets tougher as they get older. Dale is one of the men who does it for his health.

Dale Steinhoff: You miss the camaraderie, and you know, that, that weekly workout because I’m 68. So, you know, hockey for me – every week I get to go is a bonus. And so, I wonder if we don’t get back this year. Even you know, will not playing much this year, make it so that, you know, my career’s over. You kind of wonder about that.

Allie Leask: Dale’s teammate Ken Cormack doesn’t seem to have concerns about his physical health, but he does miss the physical demands the sport asked of his body.

Ken Cormack: I enjoyed hockey because it was a kind of aerobically demanding sport, and I enjoy that. I enjoy running and cycling and that sort of thing that was at hockey was just another way to kind of get your heart rate up and get a good sweat on.

Allie Leask: So, from what we’ve heard, the rink is more than oval of frozen water. It is a place for exercising, socializing and de-stressing. Since the beginning of COVID-19, staff and volunteers at most locations have been working as hard as they can to make sure the rinks stay open and teams stay safe. Jeff Brown plays in and helps organize the men’s recreational hockey league in Owen Sound. This year, instead of only having a competitive and intermediate league, they split the league into three divisions: competitive, intermediate and recreational. This gives people more chances to play since spots are limited due to COVID restrictions.

Jeff Brown: The third division added a little bit of an incentive. Because it was kind of a mix for guys. And that’s sort of our, our motto is to make it safe for guys to come to play and make it fun. So that every team has an ability to win on any given night. I mean, I think they were happy always to be on the ice, but this was this was the only focus and we’re just happy to be out doing something, and you could hear that in their voices, they were very grateful to know that we had put in the time to put it together for them and give them something to do. So, I mean, I think most of us would say that even if they just opened the dressing rooms for half an hour, we’d probably be OK just to go and have a beer in the dressing room. Well, we can’t do that anymore. Like, we, we’re not allowed to do that. But just even having that just that social time in the dressing room would be ideal.

Allie Leask: Just as Jeff has made compromises for the Owen Sound league, so has Carly Steinhoff. As the manager of facilities, parks and recreation in Arran-Elderslie, she had a big decision to make. Arran-Elderslie township covers three different arenas: Paisley, Tara and Chesley. Carly could have closed one or all of them for the remainder of 2020-2021 hockey season, but she didn’t think that was fair to the players.

Carly Steinhoff: The guys are bored, people are lonely. People are, you know what, drinking more. You know what I mean though? Like, it’s the whole, it was, it was your reason to go out once a week and see people and get active and now it’s not even an option. So … and I mean, for the people that like are not social, and that was outing, I don’t know what they do.

Allie Leask: When dealing with a worldwide pandemic, it’s hard to know the right thing to do. When does the physical and mental toll placed on hockey players start to outweigh COVID risks? According to the public health situation report, as of December 26, the first day of provincial lockdown, Grey Bruce had 32 active cases compared to Toronto’s 541. Greg admits that even though it’s hard to take in all the new restrictions, Grey Bruce is lucky to have a low number of cases compared to other regions.

Greg Hoddinott: There’s worse things in life. Let’s put it that way. You’ll get it, this really isn’t. I’ve been lucky. Our family’s been lucky. You know, this whole region is lucky in a lot of ways. You know, we really haven’t been … yes, we thought we finally had our first death. But we really haven’t been hit the way some other areas have. So, you know, as much as there’s stress in it, when there isn’t the same stress as if you’re living in Toronto or Ottawa or, you know, even London or Windsor for that matter where there’s been some, you know, larger issues.

Allie Leask: We all know trying to navigate life throughout COVID-19 is hard enough as it is. By taking away recreational hockey from the players that use it as a physical and mental outlet, we are putting them in a position to choose between their health and their sanity.

Dale Steinhoff: I think the, for some, the biggest thing here is Grey Bruce’s numbers have been very good. And I think maybe some people thought we were being penalized because of the numbers and other regions. But I mean, then, then actually Arran Elderslie had a great big outbreak. And you know what, we weren’t any better than anybody else. I think everybody’s just resigned to the fact but there’s certainly hope out there that we will get back at it.

Audio: The sound of a hockey game and overlap of skating sounds