Players who skate these days at Total Package Hockey (TPH) in Atlanta are getting a different on-ice feel.
A variety of skill drills — individual stickhandling, passing, shooting and skating — are being emphasized by coaches. It’s all about getting the kids back into hockey shape after a break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s also about keeping the players safe on and off the ice.
TPH shut down its operation in early March and began practicing using social distance hockey activities May 26.
TPH, which trains its athletes ages 10-18 out of the Atlanta IceForum in Duluth, Georgia, is thrilled to be able to allow the players back onto the ice.
“I think that’s our safe place, to tell you the truth,” said Brad Schell, TPH Atlanta director of operations. “I think they do feel normal. I think at the start it was a little bit weird because some of these boys hadn’t skated in a couple months. Maybe the first couple of skates it felt a little weird, but now it feels normal getting on the ice.
“As a coach, you’re saying stuff that you wouldn’t say before like, ‘Hey, spread out, guys’ — different things like that.”
Throughout the time away from the rink, TPH staff kept the hockey players’ parents informed on a weekly basis on the status and when the program could open back up.
“Once the rink opened, [the players] were coming for like stick times and stuff for probably for about two weeks before we actually opened up our skates,” said Schell. “I thought that some kids were going to skate, some kids weren’t. But by the time we got back skating after two weeks of stick time, I think there might have only been one or two students out of 25-30 that hadn’t touched the ice yet. That kind of surprised me, but everyone took good measures… It went well.”
TPH has its own set of safety guidelines for players, but the company also gets direction on guidelines from privately-owned IceForum, which it rents ice and classroom space from. Those rules are in effect right when the players and parents step into the rink.
“They still have to show up with masks on,” Schell said.
Anyone entering the rink is also asked a list of questions on if they have displayed any COVID-19 symptoms or been around anyone who has tested positive.
The locker rooms at the IceForum have been tweaked to become safer with marked off spots six to seven feet away from other players to dress. There are hand sanitizing stations in the middle of every locker room which players are encouraged to use frequently. Players aren’t allowed to shower in the facility, either. Some kids are coming into the rink half-dressed so they don’t have to use a locker room.
“They come in, sit down on their X and get ready. We tell them when it’s good to come out, they come out,” Schell said. “They come off and get undressed and they’re out the door. We don’t want them lingering too much. We ask them that they wear masks on the way in, on the way out and basically every second they don’t have their hockey helmet on.”
As for on-ice safety, the TPH coaches run high-tempo practices and skills drills so players aren’t waiting in line for too long. It’s as much constant motion for the players as possible.
Schnell, who was an Atlanta Thrashers draft pick in 2002 and played in the AHL, ECHL and Europe during his professional career, knows it’s baby steps every day to try to return to what hockey used to be like.
“We’ve got really good reviews on how we’ve come back and how we’re following the guidelines and all that kind of stuff,” Schell said. “It’s been good. We love having the boys on the ice. Seeing them get back on the ice with smiling faces, it makes our job as directors and staff to be on the ice, it makes it easy.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.