The president of Maine’s amateur hockey organization will wait until Friday to make a decision about canceling this weekend’s games, but local ice rink operators are acknowledging Maine’s current COVID-19 regulations make indoor ice hockey a practice-only sport.

“Right now, we’ve canceled games for last weekend and we’ll make the decision on games this weekend as late as we can, which is basically Friday. Under the guidelines, teams are able to practice,” Mike Keaney, the president of the Maine Amateur Hockey Association, said Wednesday.

Last Friday, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services sent a letter sent to Keaney, signed by DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, that outlined playing games ran afoul of the state’s Community Sports Guidelines.

Keaney said he requested more information for DHHS shortly after receiving the letter. On Tuesday, he had a “brief conversation with the commissioner’s executive assistant. I’m hoping for a call.”

The hockey association oversees about 20 organizations from Presque Isle to Biddeford, with over 5,000 participants at both the youth and adult level.

The spotlight was put on youth hockey after the Maine CDC announced Thursday as many as 400 people were exposed to the virus by an infected hockey referee who worked eight games Oct. 3-4. Those included six youth games at Biddeford Ice Arena and one multi-hour adult session at North Yarmouth Academy’s Travis Roy Arena.

“We’re really at a wait and see, and as a rink, here at NYA, we’re not going to decide to do inter-squad games unless the state provides guidance that that’s OK,” said Ben Jackson, NYA’s head of school. “I don’t think any of the organizations are planning to play games. That’s certainly not going to happen in our rink.”

Since early September, MEAHA sanctioned youth games to be played across the state. That followed a summer’s worth of practices and clinics. State agencies had not bothered enforcing or educating the hockey community that game-play was not allowed until after the hockey referee case came to light.

That has left some people wondering if the state is overreacting to a single snapshot of information.

“I think the last four months speak for themselves. They started skating in Maine the first week of July with lots of kids’ camps and clinics,” said Rich Reissfelder, the president of Biddeford Ice Arena’s board of directors. “At Biddeford, we opened Aug. 1. That’s three, four months, and we have one infected referee, and we don’t know if he picked it up at any rink.”

Keaney said he did not want to make his arguments for why hockey should be played through the media. He did, however, praise the safety protocols his member associations and rink operators have put in place.

“Quite honestly, what we had been doing has been working,” Keaney said.

On Tuesday, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said in his press briefing that no positive cases had been connected to the infected hockey referee. CDC spokesperson Robert Long said Wednesday that case investigators are continuing their work, and an update will likely be made during Thursday’s media briefing.

Reissfelder and Jackson both noted that if no cases of COVID transmission are connected to the hockey referee, it will stand as a data point supporting the idea that hockey can be played safely indoors. Reissfelder said it is his understanding that “almost all” of the players from the four Maine Wild teams exposed to the referee have been tested, “and the same with the Biddeford Youth” teams.

Several COVID-19 outbreaks have been associated with hockey teams in recent days, including two in New England and another involving two teams in Quebec.

On Tuesday, a dozen new COVID-19 cases in Vermont – the state with the lowest infection rate in the nation – were linked to youth and adult hockey programs based at a rink in Montpelier.

In New Hampshire, between 12 to 14 players on the 16-year-old Seacoast Performance Academy team, plus at least one adult, had tested positive for the virus by last Friday. The team practices at The Rinks at Exeter. Seacoast Performance Academy is a specialized, private, hockey-centric educational alternative.

Also last week, two teams from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League had to suspend activities following COVID outbreaks. The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada announced they had 18 positive cases last Wednesday. A day later, the Sherbrooke Phoenix announced they also had positive cases. Those teams had played each other twice the previous weekend.

Troubh Ice Arena in Portland has yet to host any hockey games, said Jake O’Donal, who took over as the arena manager last week. The city-owned facility did not open until Sept. 8, and since then has been a practice-only facility.

O’Donal said prior to the rink opening for limited business, city staff and lawyers reviewed the Community Sports Guidelines.

“They interpreted the CDC rules as meaning that we could not do games. From what we’ve been hearing, yeah, that put us in the minority,” O’Donal said. “I know that we’ve had multiple conversations with the state and we reach out a couple times a week, so we’re never going to put the city in a bad light.”

Not hosting games will create a loss of revenue for rinks. It costs $250 to rent Troubh Ice Arena for one hour, with a slightly reduced rate of $230 after 9 p.m. Travis Roy Arena charges a similar rate – $240 per hour.

“People are still renting practice time during the week, but our weekend time is our biggest rental time and that’s mostly games, so that’s pretty quiet now,” Jackson said.

“It’s definitely going to be a concern if stuff like the high school games are not able to happen,” said O’Donal. Troubh Ice Arena is home to the Portland/Deering and Cheverus high school teams.

Biddeford Ice Arena, which operates as a nonprofit, charges its primary renters a flat rate payment based on a corresponding percentage of its needed budget. Reissfelder said some of the hours left open by canceled games could be filled with practices, though he wondered if athletes and parents would tire of a practice-only regiment.

“We don’t get any subsidies from the city. Whatever we make on the ice is how we keep the arena open,” Reissfelder said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: