When the CIAC made the decision to cancel the fall football season last week, questions began to be raised about why other sports can play but football cannot?
Since the end of June, baseball, softball, lacrosse and soccer have been playing outdoors while basketball and hockey have both been able to hold events indoors.
That is continuing as the calendar turns to fall with hockey tournaments being hosted at ice rinks around the state, many featuring players from outside of Connecticut.
That has prompted questions from football supporters as to why a contact sport like hockey is allowed to continue indoors while football is not allowed to be played outside?
Hockey rinks were allowed to reopen in Phase 2 of the state’s plan to reopen businesses including sports complexes and gyms.
In addition to hosting local youth leagues, rinks are also hosting tournaments with players coming from a geographically wide area.
“We’ve hosted several tournaments. I’m not saying other places don’t take precautions, but we take it to the 10th degree of taking precautions,” said Chris Buonanno, managing partner of the Danbury Arena. “If you look at our website (danburyice.com), if you walk into the arena, you need a waiver signed. We’re also giving temperature checks. We’ve got sanitizing stations all over the place. We have seven or eight changing stations (with seats six feet apart).”
While the state Department of Health has issued guidelines for fall high school sports and recommended 11-on-11 football not be played, the decision about whether to play ultimately fell to the CIAC which decided to shut it down.
With no state governing body outside of high school sports, it is being left to the discretion of each league or tournament and local boards of health as to when and where hockey can be played. The DPH has not offered specific guidelines for sports outside of those sanctioned by the CIAC such as AAU or local rec teams.
Many of these tournaments are run by New England Hockey which is the governing body of USA Hockey for the New England District.
On their website (nedusah.org) there are guidelines for each New England state.
Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have specific guidelines for hockey while the other states are just going by their reopening plans.
In neighboring Massachusetts, ice hockey tournaments are not being allowed to play, though teams from that state may travel to other states for games and tournaments providing they follow protocols about quarantining upon return home.
Players in Massachussetts can participate in full-ice games and/or 3-on-3 ice hockey with restrictions, which includes no body checking, quick whistles to limit intermittent body contact and face-offs with centers wearing masks.
In Connecticut, things will likely be different when the CIAC has to decide whether to allow boys ice hockey in the winter based on DPH recommendations.
Then, CIAC hockey may suffer the same fate as football.
The problem for football players is there are no club or AAU programs outside of the high school season to fall back on.
Meanwhile, girls high school ice hockey is not an official CIAC sport. Its is goverened by the Connect High School Girls Hockey Association, which puts on the annual state tournament.
Over Labor Day weekend, Danbury Arena, along with Newington Arena, Northford Ice Pavilion (North Branford) and the RoseGarden Ice Arena (Norwich) hosted the 2020 Labor Day Cup which was put on by East Coast Classic Tournaments.
The tournament was comprised of teams ranging from 10- to-18-year olds coming from states all over the east coast.
Other tournaments are scheduled around the state prior to Thanksgiving include the Boston Breakout at the SONO Ice House in Norwalk Sept. 11-13; the CAN-AM Challenge Cup at the Shelton Rinks at Sports Center of Connecticut Nov. 13-15 and the National Girls Hockey League which will play in Middletown at the Spurrier-Snyder Rink starting Oct. 30.
Some of these tournaments will not only attract players from around the country but also teams from Canada to compete.
While it is the job of the rink to put guidelines for safety and cleanliness in place, the games being played fall under the jurisdiction of whichever league or group is holding them.
“The tournaments we host are no different than the youth games for us. We do not run the tournaments, we just provide the ice,” said Northford Ice Pavilion General Manager Bill Maniscalco. “We are following all the CDC guidelines and we have not had any issues that I am aware of. Our guys here are doing whatever we need to do to keep themselves and the players safe.”
Precautions being taken at many rinks include temperature checks for players entering the buildings, mask requirements for players, coaches and referees, eliminating checking and limits on the number of spectators.
Players are asked at most rinks to arrive no more than 20 minutes prior to their games, fully dressed other than helmets and skates, avoid locker rooms and space themselves out on benches.
So far, the plan seems to be working for local rinks with no confirmed outbreaks coming out of the tournaments.
“I feel for the kids. (Hockey) is not like going to the park to shoot baskets or throwing a baseball or football around. It requires a lot of equipment. You just can’t do it anywhere,” Buonanno, said. “We’re giving the kids a little sense of normalcy. We’re so on top of it, it’s not even funny. All the partners agree that if somebody’s positive, we shut everything down. We’ve been taking every single precaution. The health department has been in the arena probably a half a dozen times and have signed off on everything we’re doing. I look at it as risk/reward, and reward of seeing the kids coming in and playing again, so far the reward is worth the risk.”
Michael Fornabaio contributed to this story.