Ice sports heat up as arenas reopen


West Nipissing youth have started lacing up their skates and returning to the ice, as the reality of how a season of winter sports will look during a pandemic is taking shape.

The Sturgeon Falls Arena reopened on October 19. Since then, local teams have been taking to the ice under strict guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. From only being allowed to arrive 15 minutes prior to practice and entering through an assigned door, to restricting how many parents can go inside with their kids, there’s a lot of extra steps that come with ice sports in 2020. But those are steps people are willing to take to get back to doing what they love.

“It was good to see the kids back on the ice with smiles on their faces,” says Sarah Rondeau, President of West Nipissing Minor Hockey Association, following their first practices for U15 and U18 teams. “They all came off saying they were extremely out of shape, so they’ll have to work on that,” she jokes.

After seeing such enthusiasm for the arena reopening in Sturgeon Falls, the next evening, Oct. 20, West Nipissing council decided to reopen the Verner Arena as well. The earliest the Verner rink will be ready for use is November 16, noted Stephan Poulin, Director of Economic Development and Community Services, and it may even take a bit longer. Still, it was good news for the Verner Bulls hockey league and the Verner Figure Skating Club, who had feared their ice might stay closed all winter.

The municipality will need to hire an additional 1.5 staff this winter to help sanitize the Verner Arena, as Poulin said they are “stretched thin with the increase in demand for janitorial and maintenance for COVID.” Poulin warned of additional cost. “We always operate at a certain loss, but council has to be aware, with decrease in ice rentals and increase in maintenance costs, the gap widens. The loss per hour to run these facilities just increased more and more.”

Still, both Poulin and council felt that cost should not be the only consideration. “Running an arena is not a money-making venture, I think council is aware of that, it’s a community service. It’s a facility to provide recreational activities to our residents,” said the director.

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