MONTREAL — There are two black hockey bags sitting in the office of Mike Baumgartner's home, and he wonders if they will be used again.
Minor hockey associations across Canada have had to cut their seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of them are trying to determine when they will resume and how to make the game safe for children.
Through a statement, Hockey Canada said they will decide when minor hockey will return with the guidance of public health officials. Until then, they "cannot provide an accurate or fair comment on the state of minor hockey."
It means hockey parents like Baumgartner, who has a son and daughter who play in Laval, nearly 30 minutes north of Montreal, are left wondering if it will be safe to put their children back on the ice.
"I'm on the fence about that. We live with my mom, who's an older woman. I'm asthmatic, my kids are asthmatic," Baumgartner said.
Hockey Quebec will send an action plan for minor hockey to the Quebec government at the end of the month.
Hockey Montreal president Yves Pauze confirmed some rule changes that were being discussed, such as teams playing each other at 3-on-3 or 4-on-4, as well as teams playing locally and not participating in tournaments outside of their region.
"As long as we don't have a vaccine, there won't be hockey played like how it's normally played," Pauze said.
Some local associations, such as one in Kahnawake, 15 minutes away from the Island of Montreal, are bracing for huge drops in enrolment once hockey returns.
Kahnawake Minor Hockey Association board member Lou Ann Stacey said there are over 100 children enrolled annually in her organization. She said parents have indicated through social media that they would rather see no hockey being played than to have their kids play with fewer children on the ice, and some levels might be cancelled altogether as a result.
"What if some parents choose not to send their kids or not to register?" Stacey said. "Maybe we won't even have the numbers."
In Ontario, the Peterborough Hockey Association is awaiting news from Hockey Canada, the Ontario Hockey Federation, and the Ontario Minor Hockey Association before proceeding.
PHA president James Bradburn is also keeping an eye out for organizations in other sports such as the Ontario Soccer Association, which recently cancelled sanctioned activities for the month of June. With summer sports like soccer being postponed, it means fall and winter sports will be next to have their fate determined.
"We're just in a holding pattern," Bradburn said.
Bradburn also anticipates a drop in participation, partially because families might not be able to afford letting their children play.
"You have people who've lost their jobs, can they afford it?" Bradburn said. "Hockey's not cheap. Registration is $600. Throw in the equipment, if you need new equipment, you're up to $1000. It's a lot of money that may not be on the table for families this coming season."
While associations determine the best course of action for on-ice play, Baumgartner says he is more concerned with what can be done to enforce physical distancing measures off the ice.
"I'd be more comfortable just getting (my kids) dressed at home, going to the arena, playing the game, and then coming home," he said. "No interaction, you just play your game and leave."
Jordan Bateman, an executive with the Langley Minor Hockey Association in British Columbia, suggested ideas for minor hockey in an online article that has circulated around associations across the country.
He feels there will need to be reconfigurations of dressing rooms and entrances to ice surfaces, more hand sanitizers in arenas, limits to physical contact on the ice and having only team officials as spectators in order for minor hockey to safely return.
Even if it means hockey won't be the same for parents and children as it once was.
"Hockey is a really social sport," Bateman said. "You get to know the families on your team really well. You become a little team for that year that you're together. It's difficult to express how different the sport will be for a year or two if kids can't be in dressing rooms, if you can't travel for tournaments, if you can't have your full team come back because of money issues."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020.
Julian McKenzie, The Canadian Press