Winnipeg rinks a ‘ghost town’ as players, fans adjust to COVID-19 realities

Hockey rinks across the country are quieter than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic, even with a fraction of teams playing games regularly.

In Winnipeg, a combination of health guidelines and arena procedures has brought rink lobbies to a point where a pin drop is heard before a puck drop.

The Winnipeg East Railcats waiting to enter Southdale arena one by one, for COVID-19 screening.
The Winnipeg East Railcats waiting to enter Southdale arena one by one, for COVID-19 screening. Jordan Pearn / Global News

“All these different things are basically making it seem like a ghost town 90 per cent of the time in here, except for that traffic coming in and out,” said Tamara Bauknecht, Southdale Community Centre’s general manager.

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Players and coaches can only enter the arena up to 30 minutes before their scheduled ice time, while parents are stuck waiting in the car until the game begins.

“Usually you’re inside talking with all the other parents and adults and stuff, but this year you’re waiting in your car until the game and then you come back out,” said Brad Pfleger, one of many parents dropping off a player for the Winnipeg East Railcats at Southdale Arena on Monday night.

An empty lobby at Southdale Arena during a hockey practice Monday night, with seating benches taped off.
An empty lobby at Southdale Arena during a hockey practice Monday night, with seating benches taped off. Jordan Pearn / Global News

“We’re able to talk in the parking lots and by the time we go in rink, we keep our distance, got our masks on, certainly we’re not cheering like we used to,” said another Railcats dad, Brad Quennelle.

Read more: ‘Wear a friggin’ mask’: Reactions to new Manitoba COVID-19 restrictions

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Winnipeg minor hockey is only allowing one parent or guardian per player inside the rink, until at least Jan. 1, 2021.

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“Ultimately even if parents couldn’t watch, at least the kids are still able to play hockey,” said Pfleger, moments after dropping off his stepson Ethan for practice.

For parents or other family members stuck at home due to the new regulations, some rinks, including the Dakota Community Centre, have installed ‘LiveBarn‘ technology which uses cameras in the rafters to stream games online.

‘LiveBar’ streaming technology on display in the lobby at Dakota Community Centre.
‘LiveBar’ streaming technology on display in the lobby at Dakota Community Centre. Marek Tkach / Global News

“I love it because at least if my husband gets to go, I get to watch the game too,” said Andrea Cockerill, a Railcats hockey-mom.

“It would’ve been better if things would’ve been done a little bit quicker so that every arena has live barn, not every arena does so we’re missing some games but it is what it is right,” said Quennelle.

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Arenas are operating under a provincial mandate to restrict the capacity of every area in each arena to 25 per cent. That includes the dressing rooms and spectator areas separately, making each parent and player space out even more off the ice.

Read more: Winnipeg High School Hockey League season hanging by a thread

“With all these limitations on kids wanting to be involved with their parents and vice-versa, it’s really tough to tell them that that’s not the landscape anymore,” said Bauknecht.

And for the many hockey parents in Winnipeg and across the country, there continues to be plenty to adjust to amid the strangest hockey season in recent memory.

“Seeing parents, the parent parties that we usually do at this time of year as each team is being formed, but it’s short term so I’m not dwelling on that too much,” says Andrea Cockerill.

“I’m just happy they’re on the ice and they get to play the game they love.”

Click to play video 'Minor hockey in a COVID-19 2nd wave: What parents need to know' Minor hockey in a COVID-19 2nd wave: What parents need to know

Minor hockey in a COVID-19 2nd wave: What parents need to know

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