Though the ongoing presence of COVID-19 should continue to complicate the way sports operate around the country for the foreseeable future, Centaurus coach Stephen Cunningham is upbeat with the state of his hockey program going into its first year at the varsity level.
Some problems are more manageable than others.
“COVID has hampered us being able to get jerseys for the kids this year,” Cunningham said with a soft chuckle. “There was no way to fundraise for them. There was no time and it fell through the cracks … Pretty unfortunate but not the end of the world.”
Instead, his team will make do in club jerseys or the program’s old JV sweaters. No biggie. What’s more pertinent is getting back on the ice, said Cunningham, whose players are eager to return after a long layoff.
Many players around the state had their club seasons cut short and have been sidelined from the ice rink since late November after state health officials pushed local counties to level red, which prohibited most indoor activity.
“I’ve just been getting emails from parents being like ‘When are we going?’ ‘Can we get ice at this rink?’,” Cunningham said. “The want for it is still there regardless of any restrictions or regulations, which is pretty cool.”
The Colorado High School Activities Association had a virtual meeting with coaches around the state this week to discuss new rules and regulations for the sport.
As for some expected regulations, Cunningham said teams will stick mainly to playing inside their conference during the regular season. Teams will get one out-of-conference game that CHSAA approves.
Temperature checks will also be required before practice. And masks will be required for players when not on the ice.
Another plausible issue seemed to be available ice time — certainly something that’s been a headache in non-COVID times for many programs across the state. But it may not be as big of a problem this season.
Monarch coach Jimmy Dexter, who is the general manager at the Sports Stable in Superior — which has three ice rinks — said since the Stable isn’t open to the public due to county limitations, high school teams should be among the few allowed at rinks across the state.
“There’s a ton of ice right now because you can’t do much at the rinks because of all the restrictions,” Dexter said. “With CHSAA getting approved by the state to practice and play games, I don’t think there’s going to be an issue with us scheduling games.”
The new twists in Colorado’s high school hockey scene coincide with sports leagues around the country as they hunch underneath an umbrella of social distancing rules.
And so far, sports have charged forward anyway — albeit some would say at too great of a cost.
For high school athletics in the state, all five greenlit sports in the fall were able to get to the finish line with boys golf, softball, cross country, boys tennis and football each crowning champions.
Now, the winter sports slate hopes it can do the same.
“I think we can get through the season,” Dexter said. “I’m pretty confident.”
Even without COVID-19, the CHSAA hockey season would have looked different coming into the school year with the league splitting into two classifications.
Addressing the sport’s lack of parity with just 14 of 37 teams in the state reaching the quarterfinals over the past four years, per CHSAANow.com’s historical database, teams will divide into 5A and 4A. Local programs Monarch and Centaurus will play in Class 5A in the Northern League.
Last year, the high school hockey season was able to conclude right before the widespread stoppage of high school sports.
Valor Christian’s five-overtime win over Fort Collins and goalie Sam Simon’s state record 84 saves was two days before CHSAA announced that the remaining state basketball tournaments were canceled and spring sports were suspended.
Hockey is expected to begin practice Jan. 18 with contests beginning Jan. 25. The regular season will run through March 11 with each team allowed a maximum of 13 games. CHSAA is still hoping the championships can be held at Ball Arena.