There is a plan in place for the return of the Barrie Minor Hockey Association (BMHA) this fall and they’ll even have their own bubble system.
COVID-19 shut down the 2019-20 season before a champion could be crowned (two teams were named co-champions) and it has taken five months of uncertainty before BMHA general manager Steve Fontaine could announce the start-up.
“There has been a lot of planning. We just didn’t know what we were planning for,” Fontaine told BarrieToday. “There are a lot of moving parts involved, but as we are getting directive from higher up, we’ve begun to put a plan together for the upcoming season.”
The “higher up” Fontaine refers to is the Ontario Hockey Federation (OHF), which the BMHA takes its direction from.
On July 31, the OHF released its plan and return-to-play protocols.
Based on those policies, the BMHA has come up with a plan to create a season that would best adapt to the guidelines.
“A big game-changer was the recent provincial government announcement that it isn’t just 50 people allowed in a facility at a time, but rather 50 per activity. That makes it a lot more viable to have organized hockey this year,” said Fontaine.
Some of the new rules for the BMHA will be 4-on-4 hockey, teams will have nine players and goalie and using what has become everyday sports lingo, there will be five teams allowed per “bubble.”
“It is the term that was said to me, so I’ll use it. But yes, we will be allowed 50 players per bubble,” Fontaine said. “Each bubble will essentially be a division and a team can only play within their division and players can only play within their division. For example, if we have 200 kids registered, we’ll have four bubbles planned out.”
How many bubbles will be needed is still unknown, as Fontaine is unsure how many of the regular 1,600 players will be back for the COVID-era hockey season.
“We did a survey in mid-April, the height of the pandemic. We had about 90 per cent of the families saying they would participate in hockey,” he said. “We won’t start before Oct. 3, and with all the progress we’ve made in Ontario with suppressing the disease, we think we’ll have lots of people wanting to come back.”
Fontaine did say that, despite the possible demand for getting back on the ice, the BMHA will have to cap numbers due to ice allocation and what's available.
Fontaine has been with the BMHA for 25 years and says this is an unprecedented time, but one that has led to a lot of learning.
“As much as I thought I knew, I’ve learned so much since taking over this role,” said Fontaine, who became general manager at the end of June. “Just when you think you’ve got the players' side figured out, all of sudden you remember that you have to create a protocol for referees. They can’t blow their whistle because of the possible saliva that would be launched.”
A couple of options are being looked at for the officials from a hand-raising system, where the time keeper would sound the buzzer to the use of a whistle that is spitless.
Another new rule for the game is there will be no faceoffs. There will be two 22-minute periods with one team starting with the puck in the first, the other team taking possession in the second.
Penalties will result in penalty shots, while offside or icing calls will result in change of possession.
When asked if he thought the game looked more exciting this way, Fontaine said it might be, but that wasn't the main idea.
“It definitely can be more exciting this way, but at the end of the day, what I’m trying to sell here is we need to get these children back to some sense of normalcy,” said Fontaine. “These kids need physical activity, they need to get out with their friends. This has been difficult in everyone, including the kids.”
The full list of rules, including no contact, and expectations is not up on the BMHA website yet as Fontaine doesn't want to overload parents with incomplete information before everything is finalized.
“A lot of organizations were inundating parents with information and registration. We’re not allowed to have registration or collect money until Sept. 1, so we felt it best to get all the information and put the final plan together and get it out then,” said Fontaine.
For more information on the upcoming BMHA season, check out their website here.