Regional hockey teams are gearing up for a COVID-safe season as cold weather settles in. All teams have been practicing weekly and playing weekend games. The Shorewood hockey teams are combined with USM, Whitefish Bay, DSHA, Nicolet, Dominican, and Rufus King, with home games at the Pettit Ice Center.
Initial uncertainty as to whether or not the season would be allowed to happen, meant that the start of the season was not as smooth as usual.
“COVID has really put a damper on things, the schedule has been delayed, and people are scrambling to put teams together, and be able to play,” said Eric Murano, coach of the boys WNS Storm Ice Hockey Program.
COVID protocols include wearing masks at all times, even while playing, and maintaining six feet of distance whenever possible. Spectators are not allowed in the arena for practices or games, however games are livestreamed for families and fans to watch.
“Well, to begin with, we come to practice pre-dressed, and then we go into the locker room and put our skates and helmets on,” said Cole Schwebel, freshman JV player. “And when we get on the ice, especially, we’re socially distanced. Everyone is required to wear a mask on the ice and in the locker room at all times.”
To social distance more effectively, the teams have expanded their locker room into two different rooms. They also don’t sit huddled on the bench like they used to, minimizing the time spent in close proximity.
“In games, usually we’ll have two locker rooms, and we have this system, since we kind of have a little bit of a bigger team, we’ll have three offense on the bench, and two defense, and then we’ll have a line of people outside, spaced out,” Schwebel said.
The coaches have made a point to enforce these regulations, realizing that if they aren’t followed, the season could end early.
“The coach said ‘If I see you not wearing a mask while on the ice I’ll ask you to leave’ — so the coaches take it very seriously, all the players are respectful about it,” Schwebel said.
Skating with masks has not necessarily been an enjoyable experience, but it’s something the players are willing to deal with since it means they get to play.
“The kids are doing a great job, it’s not a lot of fun to be trying to go 100 miles an hour with a mask on your face and you can’t breathe,” Murano said.
While other high school sports have seen a reduced game schedule due to COVID, both the girls and boys hockey teams expect to play close to a full season’s worth of games.
“The schedule’s constantly going to change, but I would anticipate we play between 20 and 25 games, which is pretty much a normal schedule,” Murano said.
Some of these schedule changes are a result of teams scrambling to add last minute games. Other changes are due to COVID directly.
“We had a game cancelled because somebody tested positive for COVID on another team,” Murano said.
One major schedule difference, however, is that it purposefully includes only local competition: teams within a two hour bus ride. This means that some of the holiday tournaments, previously scheduled, are not happening this year.
Dan Carey, the girls team coach, says that everyone is thankful to be a part of the team and that they are “taking it one day at a time.”
“[It’s] been hard because it’s very different from what it was in the past but … everybody just wants to have a season, and they’re really thankful that we’re able to keep going and keep practices going and keep the season going,” Carey said. “It’s been a lot of work but I think everyone has a really good attitude about taking it one day at a time and being thankful for the season we have.”
Despite these changes to the season, both the girls and boys teams are expecting successful seasons.
“We’ve done quite a bit to try to have the ability for our players to play, and we’ve been accommodating to those rules we’ve installed and implemented,” Murano said. “For me, the most important thing is the experience… we really have a lot of fun, and we have a joyful atmosphere.”