As hockey crazy as Rankin Inlet can often be — especially during major tournaments such as the Terence Tootoo Memorial senior men’s event and the Polar Bear Plate juvenile/junior showcase — there’s probably not too many folks out there who would have bet big bucks against Covid-19 preventing the launch of the 2020-2021 hockey season in Rankin from initiation all the way up to oldtimers in the community.
And, the not-so-funny part of the story is that the very same folks who will not be allowed in the new arena to watch the best hockey Nunavut has to offer this season are the hockey-loving folks who have consistently followed all the health rules, regulations and guidelines concerning public events and gatherings to help their community get back to as normal as it can be during the age of Covid-19 and a worldwide pandemic.
To say the community has beaten the odds to successfully launch Nunavut’s busiest (and arguably best) hockey schedule in Rankin is still one heck of an understatement.
It hasn’t been easy for the community to make it this far, and there are guaranteed more tough times ahead as long as Covid-19 remains a serious threat to public health.
It is just as likely for the season to be cancelled again at some point in time, as it is for the launch of a vaccine to successfully regulate Covid to the sidelines for now and forever — and it can take its “new normal” with it when it goes.
The tough days still ahead are not lost upon the community’s recreation co-ordinator, David Clark, who coaches minor hockey and is on its executive board, plays in the local senior men’s league and is on its executive committee, runs annual skills development camps for minor hockey, and organizes and helps oversee just about every single tournament played in his community annually.
No small feat and an absolute ton of work.
The senior league began play this past weekend and, while Clark and his fellow committee members successfully got the league up and running again, Clark knows the format is less than perfect.
“We held our draft for the captains to select their team for the year this past weekend — we’re only holding the one this year — and then started league play the next day,” said Clark.
“We’re only going with five teams this year. I can see that possibly causing some issues because, in my opinion, we have too many players on each team (18 to 20).
“And, I think, that’s going to be more of a problem than we’ve seen in the past because, thanks to Covid, I don’t expect we’ll be seeing people travelling nearly as much during the season, so, we might have nearly every player in the league showing up for very game and, really, that’s not going to work for everyone.
“I think we have to start talking about possibly going back to the year we had both an A Division and a B Division. If the big numbers we’re seeing continue to grow in minor hockey, many of these guys will reach our senior league in just a few years, and we’re reaching the point where we’re going to have to do something to include them.”
Another change Clark and his fellow committee members have had to address are the challenges forced upon the game by Covid-19.
Clark said he’s doing his best to make sure all the players bring a water bottle with their name on it because there’s no sharing of water bottles this year and spitting while on the ice is absolutely forbidden.
“We can’t shake hands after the game anymore, so we just, kind of, waved to each other after our first game. That was kind of awkward but it’s the kind of thing we’re into now.
“And, also, the building is empty this year. Normally, there would have been a couple of hundred people in the stands watching the season opener this past Sunday night.
“That became a ritual in Rankin — people would get out of the house, go to the arena, meet up with family and friends, maybe have a cup of coffee or two, and spend their Sunday evening watching a couple of games of local hockey.
“There’s also a few other things put in place against Covid, like anyone in Rankin who is classed as an essential worker and came through Winnipeg, or anywhere else for that matter, without isolating won’t be allowed to play in our hockey league.
“It’s an ongoing challenge, that’s for sure, but, whatever happens with our league, I’m just happy the kids are back playing hockey again because, for some of them, it’s really helped change their lives for the better.”