It was game on in South Porcupine, Ontario, as the 2020/21 season played through with enhanced health and safety protocols. The Carlo Cattarello arena, known locally as ‘The Barn,’ is home to Northern Ontario’s largest recreational hockey league. The Barn Recreational League consists of 16 teams, and the Oldtimers League has eight teams.

Hockey is an important part of the community. The hard work of volunteers like Burt St. Amour, administrator for the two leagues, Owen Rigg, the Referee in Chief, the officials, and the many team reps, keeps these leagues successful year after year. Through Burt’s leadership, having a season during the pandemic became a possibility.

Burt St. Amour (left) and Owen Rigg (right)

“Burt did a ton of work during the summer that I wasn’t even aware of,” said Owen. “I wasn’t really aware that this was going on in the background at the time, so for him to get the approvals to be able to make it a go was pretty special because there wasn’t anything around in Northern Ontario, and I think from a mental health standpoint this was very important for the guys in town.”

Fortunate to be in an area where the case numbers were low, Burt worked closely with the local health unit and consulted with CARHA Hockey on their return to play guidelines. He adjusted the league operations, enforced contact tracing, and implemented a plan to provide a safe sport for all the participants and league officials, which helped ensure the community’s safety. With this being a very social league, the support from team reps was crucial to ensuring teams followed the rules.

“It sure opened my eyes, but we had a lot of support from the local health unit too, and that was good for us. Just happened to have a girl there who played hockey, and that helped us quite a bit.”

A typical season would have had 24-26 games each week, spread out over multiple nights. To accommodate for the modified season, adjustments included condensing the schedule, adding games during the week, and getting creative. Owen recognizes the team reps’ efforts and gives credit to the officials and timekeepers who were there every night. There were very few cancellations, and it was a team effort.

Referred to as a broken-up season, it was like two seasons in one. Play ran until Christmas, then paused for a month and a half due to provincial lockdown. They resumed in February, with players coming back slightly out of shape but in good spirits to continue. The Oldtimers League successfully completed in early April, while the Rec League ended a week and a half before their intended end date of April 10 due to the province’s new round of lockdown measures. While they came short of a full season, no league play was impacted by a local positive COVID case, and Burt and Owen are grateful to have been able to provide their community with an outlet during these uncertain times.

“Every time a week went by, we put a checkmark on the calendar and said we survived another week,” Burt shared.

“It’s pretty cool to see, and kudos has to be the team reps because there were reminder emails, and we would send the reminders about things,” said Owen. “The referees were on them about spitting and things that are pretty typical to the game of hockey, and changing that dynamic was tough at first, but the guys followed the rules and were understanding of them and doing what they had to continue to play, and I was super impressed by how it went down this year, it really went well.”

A positive they saw out of the challenging season was getting all the names on game sheets. Contact tracing mandated this, which also made Owen’s job easier when following up on game infractions. In addition, it has helped make the league more professional and something they plan to continue asking teams to provide. “Just to get to the point where we almost finished the season was still pretty incredible, and a lot of recognition goes to Burt for pulling it off,” said Owen. “To see our league be as successful as it was and not have any cases of COVID from it is really indicative of the fact that all the protocols were followed. Everyone worked hard, everyone did the cleaning. I’ve never seen the arena so clean, it was amazing to see. It really worked well, and we should be proud of that aspect of it.”

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