In planning for reopening, Fifth Third Arena general manager Andrea Hahn always kept players and parents in mind and in the loop.
Surveys were sent out in early July to everyone who skates at the Chicago Blackhawks community ice rink to get feedback and thoughts on the best approach to starting back up. When Hahn got the OK to open the arena on July 27, it was full steam ahead for staff and players — all the while doing everything as safely as possible. A five-minute video posted on the rink’s website captures what players and spectators can expect in their first visit back to the arena since COVID-19 struck.
“In these circumstances of what we’re going through right now in today’s world, we’re never going to get people to be 100% comfortable,” Hahn said. “You’re still going to have to assume some risk in going outside of your house. Our goal is to make sure that we’re mitigating as much as possible of that, that we’re not just putting rules out there. I’ve been to other rinks where there’s rules, but they’re not really being followed through. We really want to put something together — that’s why we wanted the video made because we felt that it was important for them to see before they got here and what to expect. And we’re happy to say so far it’s gone really well.”
Fifth Third Arena, which is the practice facility for the Blackhawks, was a bit delayed in opening compared to some other rinks nationwide. Chicago had reached its Phase 4 for reopening by the last full week in July, but the arena stayed closed to the public until the Blackhawks left for Edmonton, Alberta, to resume the NHL season.
Reopening and getting everyone acquainted with the new procedures is the first step in trying to get back to hockey normalcy.
“For us, you’ve got to walk before you can run,” Hahn said. “We’re taking those steps. We’re very happy with how they’re going right now. We’re continuing to build on those, so each day we’re a little bit busier.”
The arena shut down on March 13 after COVID-19 swept the country. For 19 and-a-half long weeks, skating wasn’t permitted to the public. Since re-opening the arena doors, response by customers has been tremendous.
Keeping communication flowing with the public throughout the closure was key to the smooth transition of opening back up.
“We look at our facility as one of the top facilities in the country, and it’s not just because it’s brand new and it being a very nice facility,” Hahn said. “My goal from the day we opened through this whole process has always been customer service.”
Since originally opening its doors in November 2017, the arena has always stayed busy. Along with being the Blackhawks practice home, the rink hosts public skates, sled hockey, stick-and-puck sessions and a 41-team men’s league. The arena is also home to eight Chicago Mission Tier I AAA youth teams, four Mission Tier I AAA girls’ teams, two Tier II programs and two high schools.
Staying Safe at the Rink
The safety video the arena released to the public via its website nicely spells out all the new safety guidelines.
Everyone entering the building is required to wear a mask. Each person has their temperature checked by a machine that resembles an iPad. If a person has a temperature that exceeds 100.4 degrees, they aren’t allowed into the rink. One adult is able to accompany a youth skater for practice.
Players need to come to the rink fully dressed except for helmets, skates and gloves. Since locker rooms are closed until further notice, the arena has 160 distance stations in the lobby and scattered around the parameters of the rink where players can sit and lace up their skates and get ready to get on the ice. Prior to hopping on the ice, skaters can remove their masks.
Coaches have been asked to lay out their practice plans with social distancing in mind. The arena also has slide benches to allow players to distance while they sit. Players are able to arrive at the rink 20 minutes before their ice time and leave 20 minutes following practice or games.
“We also changed the path of our building, so they’re coming in one door and they’re exiting another door,” Hahn said.
Spectators are allowed to watch practices and games but asked to adhere to social distancing in the stands. Concession stands, drinking fountains and the full-service bar and restaurant inside the arena are all closed.
Prior to reopening, there was a sign up for men’s league to return and within 36 hours the league hit its capacity of 41 teams for the two-sheet area. On July 29, the adults had their first game.
“We have pretty strict guidelines with our men’s league,” Hahn said. “We had direct conversations with all the captains. There will be strict guidelines on no spitting, no fighting, keeping that social distance. The way we look at it, hockey is something that’s been missing out of your game week routine and we want to keep our clients and our employees safe and be able to continue what we offer what we do here.”
The adults are the only ones playing games at the moment.
Everything that Fifth Third Arena has been offering in its reopening has been popular. Daytime public skates, stick-and-puck and recreational hockey leagues have all been busy. Youth classes started back up Aug. 1.
It’s a thrill for Hahn to be able to get youth and adult players back on the ice after the extended time away from hockey.
“I personally don’t skate, but just seeing the kids back here — we started off with 12 and 14 girls (on July 29) — they were excited to be back on,” Hahn said. “I was really impressed with the fact that their parents showed them that video. They knew what to expect, they followed the guidelines.
“We’re happy that we kind of get a chance right now to ease back into it, but it’s not going to be that long before we’ll be full bore.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.