'FELT LIKE CHRISTMAS MORNING:' Hockey players rejoice at skating for first time in 10 months – Toronto Sun


“It’s awesome. I was feeling pretty bored just Rollerblading and stuff.”

Smack dab in the middle of the hottest day of the year Thursday, Matt McQuade and Alex Johnston were anxious to feel the cold again.

They owned a prized and precious commodity: ice time.

With the privately owned Minto Arena in Ottawa’s east end officially opening its doors to skaters — the first available ice in Ottawa since the novel coronavirus shut down everything on March 12 — McQuade and Johnston were in their glory as they prepared for their 1 p.m. session.

“It’s awesome,” said Johnston, an 18-year-old from Stittsville who has played with the CCHL’s Nepean Raiders the past two seasons. “I was feeling pretty bored just Rollerblading and stuff, and I really want to get back on the ice.”

With health and safety concerns at the forefront — only five skaters allowed inside the arena at any time and with physical distancing concerns in play — it made for an intriguing arrival and departure scene for skaters all day long.

Skaters in their early teens arrived fully dressed in equipment and were dropped off by their parents, who returned an hour later for pickup.


Junior hockey players Alex Johnston, left, and Matt McQuade wait outside as hockey players take advantage of ice time with skating coach Shelley Kettles at the Minto Arena on Thursday, May 21, 2020.

Wayne Cuddington /

Postmedia

In the case of McQuade and Johnston, an 18-year-old from Stittsville who has played the past two seasons with the OHL’s Soo Greyhounds, they pulled into the parking lot in a black pickup truck. When they stepped out of the vehicle, though, it was if they, too, were in their first year of organized hockey, fully dressed in their equipment. Johnston was wearing the proud red colours of the Greyhounds, while McQuade was decked out in his Raiders black.

They then carried their skates on the sticks, outdoor rink style, to the front door. After their names were checked off a master list, they were allowed into the building.

They wouldn’t have had it any other way as they prepared for their session with personal skating coach Shelley Kettles, who also works with Ottawa Senators prospects.

“I got a text (last week) from Shelley saying there was ice available,” said McQuade. “I want to be out here as much as I can. It’s open five days a week, so I will probably be out here four or five days every week.”

Of course, the road back to where hockey used to be is a long way away, regardless of whether the NHL can somehow find a way to complete its 2019-20 season somewhere in the summer.


A young hockey player waits for the doors to open as players take advantage of ice time with skating coach Shelley Kettles at the Minto Arena on Thursday, May 21, 2020.

Wayne Cuddington /

Postmedia

For the other 99.9 per cent of the hockey world not associated with the NHL, it’s a go-slow approach.

After the Ontario government last week announced details of its Stage 1 reopening process, Minto Arena general manager Scott Lawryk consulted with provincial officials to determine what would be required to open the rink to skaters.

Nothing has been left to chance for fear of an outbreak and a step back.

After changing into their skates inside the building — an area that is sanitized following the arrival of each new group of five — players carry their bags and water bottles with them onto the ice.

With so few players on the ice and with physical distancing in place, the workouts aren’t remotely close to standard practice sessions. The overall attitude, though, was that all good things will come to those who wait.


Connor Senken waits for the doors to open as hockey players take advantage of ice time with skating coach Shelley Kettles at the Minto Arena on Thursday, May 21, 2020.

Wayne Cuddington /

Postmedia

“I’m sure (Kettles) will let us use some pucks and stuff, but it’s good to just get the skates back on,” said Johnston. “I’m not sure a lot of people can do that right now, so it’s great to get ahead of it.”

Nobody got ahead of it faster than Cam Potter, who was on the ice at 7 a.m. coaching his sons, Evan and Ben, along with Cowen Quinn and Derrick Lefebrve.

“It felt very much like Christmas morning,” said Potter. “Normally, at this point in their lives, going to a 7 a.m. practice would go over like a lead balloon. But they didn’t even balk at it. They were so desperate to skate. It felt normal. They miss the social stuff.

“It was very, very exciting, having the honour of being the first people on the ice since before March break.”

Potter was impressed with the attention to safety detail that was in place.

“Everything was clearly marked and highly sanitized,” he said. “You take everything with you on the ice, there’s no access to the benches and everyone is six feet apart at all times. But if that’s what we have to do here for the first step, I couldn’t care less. The kids couldn’t have been happier.”

kwarren@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

 

 


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