When the coronavirus pandemic hit and forced the Admirals Hockey Club to shut down on March 12, the association brainstormed ideas on how to keep its players active.
The group came up with a plan of having head coaches and directors conduct Zoom video classes where the players were able to work on drills and other activities to keep their minds fresh on hockey.
Blake Rowley, who is the president of the Admirals Hockey Club in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, had his twin boys, who were born in 2009, take part in the video calls.
“They get on it, and it was all their buddies from last year,” Rowley said. “So, as much as it was drills for them, it was them scrolling through to see who was on and saying hi and talking like 11-year-old boys do. The excitement, just for them to see each other.”
The Zoom calls, which were age-group specific, centered around stick-handling work, shooting drills, dryland activities and much more.
“Kids would sometimes shoot and the coach would go around and look at their Zoom and try to help them out that way,” Rowley said.
Some coaches also posted videos online for their players to review on their own.
Another way to keep the players involved with hockey was coming up with contests. The Admirals Hockey Club had challenges such as telling the players that if they shoot 500 pucks during a certain time span over a weekend their name would appear on the club’s social media accounts.
All the interactive activities bridged the gap until the players were able to return to the ice the first week in June.
Admirals Hockey Club, which skates out of Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn and Carol Stream Ice Arena in Carol Stream, Illinois, distributed surveys to parents prior to reopening to gauge their comfort level in getting the kids back to in-person hockey.
“‘If we open up the rinks, are you guys eager to get back into this or is this more of a let’s just wait and see?’” Rowley said. “The overwhelming response was I would say about 75% of the parents came back and they’re ready to get their kids back on the ice.”
By early June, the club authorized 10 kids on the ice and a coach to work on drills.
The following month, Illinois went into Phase 4 of reopening, which meant 50 kids could be in the arena and skating. However, keeping the safety of players in mind, officials with the Admirals Hockey Club opted to bump up its on-ice numbers to just 20 players.
“We didn’t really want to dive back into it,” Rowley said. “In our kind of personal feeling and estimation, it was probably a little bit more than we wanted to dive into.”
Measures to promote safety in and out of the rink has been a major emphasis for the club. Temperature checks are conducted at the front door and masks are required for players except for when they are on the ice. The club provides little brown sandwich bags for the players to store their masks when they aren’t using them. There are crowd control stanchions throughout the rinks directing the players to come in at the main entrance and exit in the back door, trying to eliminate kids from crossing paths.
Locker rooms are open and limited to five or six kids at a time, but the majority of players are choosing to finish getting dressed on benches that are near the boards. Every six feet, there is red tape to signify where a player can put down their bag.
“When we got to the 20 kids, it actually went pretty smoothly,” Rowley said. “The kids got it; they understood the routine. They adhered to all the guidelines and rules we put in place. It’s kind of like it’s the new normal, as much as I don’t want to say that.”
The kids know there are measures in place to continue to keep them safe, but they are happy just to be able to skate and have fun on the ice again.
“It was really fun to see all the kids get in the rink and see their buddies,” Rowley said.
On the ice, the Admirals Hockey Club is keeping kids interested and engaged in practices since games aren’t being played yet. Skills competitions and other interactive drills on the ice keep things fun and exciting for the players.
The Admirals Hockey Club is a big proponent of USA Hockey’s American Development Model, which focuses on fun through age-appropriate, long-term athlete development. That has been a real emphasis, especially at the 8U and 10U levels.
“That’s still going to be our goal and it’s just as important as ever to focus on that ADM model,” Rowley said. “This season, who knows how many games we’re going to play, but these kids have got to get better, and they will get better.”
Last year, the Admirals Hockey Club had 250 players. Rowley is optimistic for another big group this year.
The season may look slightly different for the Admirals Hockey Club in terms of the total number of games played, but Rowley has emphasized the important of focusing on this year and not looking ahead to 2021-22. Team tryout dates are still in tact, and the players are having a fun and safe experience on the ice.
“Our biggest focus is proving ourselves with enough flexibility as a club, but also with our families,” Rowley said. “So that as the landscape changes, we’re able to adjust with it.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.