Youth hockey leagues have been playing games at ice rinks across Maine, failing to abide by state guidelines that limit indoor hockey to intrasquad scrimmages.

Those games were in the spotlight Thursday after Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said 400 people were potentially exposed to COVID-19 by a referee who tested positive. He officiated games last weekend in Yarmouth, Biddeford and New Hampshire.

“Youth hockey teams are playing, they’re playing pretty extensively,” Bowdoin College men’s coach Jamie Dumont said.

The community sports guidelines posted on the state’s website define specific levels of allowable play for a variety of sports.

Ice hockey is categorized as a moderate risk activity. “At this time, sports are restricted to the types of play presented in the table below based on the level of risk associated with the sport or activity,” the guidelines state.

The table on the website shows that indoor competition for ice hockey is limited to intrasquad scrimmages (level 3). Competitions between teams in the same geographic area are only allowed to be played outdoors (level 4).

Robert Long, spokesperson for Maine CDC, said Thursday that the community sports guidelines apply to youth and adult sports.

The director of hockey operations for the Maine Wild Hockey youth program said that players and coaches from four teams have entered quarantine after being exposed to the referee who tested positive.

Brad Church, a former Portland Pirates player and executive, said the players range in age from 9 to 15 and were involved in four games at the Biddeford Ice Arena last weekend. All games involving those teams have been canceled through Oct. 19, he added.

Asked if he was aware of Maine’s community sports guidelines, which prohibit the playing of indoor games for moderate-risk sports such as ice hockey, Church said the guidelines were reviewed when they were updated on Sept. 1.

“When the last set came out we reviewed them,” he said. “There was also a big effort put forth from the Maine Amateur Hockey Association, USA Hockey and all the local programs. We put protocols in place to keep everyone as safe as possible.”

Church went on to say, “Nobody told us we couldn’t play. We reviewed the general guidelines and put in protocols … to make sure we can get the kids back on the ice and to make it as safe as possible.”

Mike Keaney, president of the Maine Amateur Hockey Association, did not return phone calls Thursday seeking an interview for this story.

A scan of social media shows youth hockey teams were also traveling outside their home counties to play last weekend. The Maine Evolution, a program based in Gorham, touted wins by its U18 team in Rockport and its U16 team at Bridgton Academy against Casco Bay (Portland) and the Nordiques (Lewiston).

The Auburn-based Maine Gladiators’ celebrated its undefeated Tier 3 U16 team’s win against the host team in Rochester, New Hampshire, on Saturday.

Church coached one of the teams that played in Biddeford last weekend. His son, Weston, played on one of the teams.

“There has been a lot of preparation for something like this,” Church said. “We would have been foolish to think we would go through entire hockey season without either directly or indirectly coming across a positive case. We had protocols in place and we’ll follow the recommendations of the CDC.

“It’s a 14-day quarantine, so we’re going to follow what the experts recommend us to do.”

The Maine Wild play out of Biddeford Ice Arena. Church said they have been practicing and playing since Sept. 8. Church said that the Wild, along with all youth hockey programs in Maine, have put specific protocols in place to keep the players as safe as possible. No spectators are allowed at the BIA. Players must wear a mask from the moment they enter the building until they get to the ice, including in the locker room. Coaches must wear a mask on the bench. Referees, however, are not required to wear a mask.

In his media briefing Thursday, Shah said the state was more concerned with containing a possible outbreak than determining whether the guidelines were violated.

“We just want to make sure the folks who were potentially exposed have that information early,” Shah said. “We’ll start thinking about other questions once we make sure the public has been notified.”

Staff Writer Steve Craig contributed to this story.

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