Last week, USA Hockey asked players, families, coaches, officials and volunteers to submit their questions regarding the upcoming 2020-21 season. After consulting with experts on the various topics of questions asked – including Dr. Michael Stuart from the Mayo Clinic, USA Hockey’s chief medical and safety officer, on the health and safety front – we’ve answered the most common questions below and provided additional resources.
Question (Rick D. from New York): Has anyone done research, or have an opinion on whether full-face visors would mitigate transmission of COVID-19? If this is the case, a plexiglass face shield would be the equivalent of playing while wearing a mask, something no sport is doing/requiring.
Answer: A full, clear polycarbonate shield offers many of the same attributes as a facial covering; however, there is no scientific evidence to prove better defense against infectious disease transmission. A full clear shield allows the athlete to breathe normally, acts as a barrier in case someone in close proximity coughs or sneezes, decreases face touching and prevents spitting. Your helmet facemask is a personal choice, but a full clear shield may provide a higher level of protection. For more information about the facemask information USA Hockey published, click here.
Question (Anthony N.): Understanding that water droplets (even those that may suspend in air for a given time) are likely being expelled into the air through sweat, talking/yelling out drills, and heavier breathing during play, how can a sport like hockey be considered safe, especially with the high potential of direct contact, potentially spreading/sharing water droplets through gear and jerseys?
Answer: Hockey and other youth sports provide an important vehicle for the physical, social and mental well-being of our children and families. The choice to participate is a personal one. There are responsible ways to play sports and that playing sports provide positive health benefits for physical, social and mental well-being, but there is always some level of risk. The chance of viral transmission from hockey gear or jerseys is unknown. Risk can be reduced by frequent hand sanitation, avoid touching the face and disinfection of equipment and jerseys after each use.
Question (John F. from Connecticut): Would you please provide some input as to what you would suggest be the protocol for a team who has a player who tests positive? Should they continue to practice and play games or should there be some protocol to ensure safety?
Answer: The infected player should be immediately isolated and treated as necessary. The COVID-19 case is reported to the local public health authorities and their recommendations should be followed. Any teammates who were in close contact, defined by the CDC as 15 minutes within six feet, need to be tested, and follow personal care physician recommendations from the last contact, since they could develop an infection at any point during that time period. The initial test is needed to determine if they were infected at the time of the contact, possibly from a common source.
Question (Caroline G.): Our youth hockey team is striving to implement the safest possible measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while practicing or playing hockey. Is there any reason that we should not adopt a policy that team coaches and managers must inform players and their families that someone else who was with the team (player, manager, or coach) tested positive? No names would need to be disclosed, just the fact that someone with whom others were on the ice tested positive.
Answer: Yes, all close contacts who may have been exposed to the virus should be notified without identification of the infected person in compliance with HIPPA laws. This protects the individual’s identity, but allows for teammates and families to take necessary action such as testing and self-isolating.
Question (Karen S. from South Dakota): I am the hockey development coordinator for a small, 100% volunteer association. The question I am asked most frequently is: “Why can’t we use locker rooms if the players are wearing masks?” We have hockey players in our association from at least six different school districts. Am I being overly restrictive to suggest we are minimizing potential exposure risk by not using locker rooms?
Answer: You should follow the policy of your local arena on the use of locker rooms. Multiple people congregating less than six feet apart in an enclosed space without wearing a mask are at increased risk for viral transmission. Avoidance of locker rooms is just another strategy to reduce risk. If locker rooms are being used, it is important to maintain social distancing even when wearing masks.
Question (Jack F.): We have an evaluation session in a few days where there will be at least 50-60 kids on the ice. With all the mandates or social distancing / hand washing / mask wearing, how do you propose keeping the kids safe with that large of a gathering? In our county, there is not a public mask mandate. I know that my family has been staying safe and have been overly diligent in taking all precautions to ensure optimal safety. I have no idea what other parents are doing socially.
Answer: Adhere to the local, state and federal guidelines on the maximum number of people allowed to gather in an indoor facility. USA Hockey, in conjunction with the U.S. Ice Rinks Association and U.S. Figure Skating issued a Returning To The Rinks guide for arenas and programs to consider during this time of COVID-19. USA Hockey also released a document on mitigating risk. Coronavirus (COVID-19) information, updates and examples of on-ice activities can be found here.
You can divide the evaluation session into smaller groups, stagger arrival and departure times, screen everyone who enters the building and establish separate routes for arena entry and exit.
Question (Eric I.): What has the COVID-19 infection rate been among youth hockey players? Has there been any hospitalizations? Any known deaths?
Answer: We have heard of hockey players who have tested positive, but don’t know if prevention strategies were employed or if viral transmission occurred at the ice rink. We do not have valid data to calculate the infection rate and the prevalence varies according to geographic location. We have not received any reports of hospitalizations or deaths. Your local health department may have information on specific facilities where infections have been identified.
Question (Richard B. from California): We were notified they are now going to be requiring players to wear "face coverings" during hockey play. When I posed this question to a staff member, the staff member told me two things. The decision was suggested and implemented by USA Hockey. Why? Even players wearing full face shields (not a cage) would be required to also wear a face mask inside the full face shield.
Answer: USA Hockey has not implemented mandatory face coverings when on the ice. You need to follow your local and state guidelines, since some communities require a face covering/mask for indoor athletic facilities. Face coverings/masks may be uncomfortable to wear during sports and may hinder breathing especially during strenuous activity or when they become wet. If you choose to wear, or local and state guidelines require you to wear a face covering/mask while playing ice hockey, wash your hands before putting it on and taking it off, avoid touching the face covering/mask or your face beneath the face covering/mask and wash your face coverings/masks after each use.
Question (Jay H.): Would you recommend high risk individuals (over 65 or underlying conditions like asthma etc.) play hockey under the existing USA Hockey and CDC guidelines?
Answer: The risk of contracting COVID-19 while playing ice hockey is minimal, but individuals with medical co-morbidities are known to be at increased risk. Participation is a personal choice. You should consult your physician and strictly follow the USA Hockey suggestions (screening for all who enter the arena, personal hygiene, social distancing, facial covering/mask, disinfection of surfaces and equipment).
Question (Bobby S. from Illinois): My Son is a U15 Player that takes good care of his equipment: he dries it out and we wash most of it weekly or biweekly depending on the amount of ice time. Any suggestions during these times to limit spread through equipment? Typically we use a disinfectant cycle on our washer, air dry outside. Can COVID live at all in the equipment environment over time?
Answer: We do not have data on how long the virus can live on equipment, but frequent cleaning and disinfection is advised. Here are some tips:
Question (Derek E.): I read an article about how COVID spreads easily in the cold dry conditions that an ice rink provides. What are your thoughts on this?
Answer: The COVID virus can survive for a period of time in any cold and dry environment, but there is no evidence for increased risk of disease transmission in an ice rink. Rinks have significant HVAC systems that circulate fresh air on a regular basis, and due to the fast pace of skating, air flow for the athlete is circulated at a higher rate.
Question (Derek E. from Florida): As an adult player (51 years old) what are your top concerns about me returning to play hockey in a no contact league this fall. If I wear a mask at the rink and while playing, would I be reasonably protected?
Answer: There is risk with all potential exposures at home, work, sports, school and social activities. Participation is a personal choice. You should strictly follow the USA Hockey suggestions (screening for all who enter the arena, personal hygiene, social distancing, facial covering/mask, disinfection of surfaces and equipment).
Question (Paul W. from Illinois): What can I do to stay in touch with USA Hockey?
Answer: One of the best ways to stay in touch is by volunteering for your local association or program in some fashion. As you may know, there are many different roles for volunteers and they play a key role in the overall success of any association. We also invite you to keep up with happenings at USA Hockey online at USAHockey.com and through our social media channels.
Question (Mike from California): Our league games have restarted and have been going for a few weeks, and our current season is projected to end in November. Our director has told all players that we don’t need USA Hockey renewals for the remainder of the year, and to instead register with AAU Hockey. I figured I should go straight to the source. Are California games not being sanctioned by USA Hockey anymore? Is there any impact to me as a player?
Answer: USA Hockey will be sanctioning hockey this season across the country, including California. In order to ensure that you are able to be registered with a USA Hockey team this season, that you are covered by USA Hockey’s industry-leading insurance, and protected by its networks of bylaws, rules and policies, you should register with USA Hockey. Regarding specific states playing hockey again, rinks will continue to abide by local government procedures in order to ensure a safe environment. USA Hockey will sanction games at any facility that follows local health guidelines and allows games to be played. If local health guidelines do not permit competition, USA Hockey does not advocate playing illegal games as safety remains our number one priority for players.
Question (John B from New York): What lobbying and education is USA Hockey doing to explain to local and state governments that hockey itself is a safe activity?
Answer: USA Hockey and affiliate leadership are focused on working with government leaders in order to continue opening rinks nationwide. We have developed materials that can be used by every level of hockey leadership to communicate with local governments for a safe return to hockey. We are actively involved through multiple channels in ensuring appropriate decision-makers understand that our sport, while taking appropriate precautions, is indeed safe to play. We’re fortunate to be guided by leading medical professionals and their resources including Dr. Mike Stuart from the Mayo Clinic, our chief medical and safety officer, along with the input of many other professionals throughout the industry. While significant progress has been made, challenges remain and we’re continuing to work to ensure our programs in all areas of the country can get on the ice.
Question (Kelsey L.): I already paid for my new season fee at the beginning of COVID. Then I got an email about one month later stating that everyone will be automatically extended to get the 2020-21 season playing fee for free. If this is true, can I get my money back?
No membership was automatically extended as a free 2020-21 season membership this year. Every member of USA Hockey will need to renew their membership this year in order to continue receiving all of USA Hockey’s benefits.
Question (Francisco G.): Will the 2020-2021 season require all players to wear helmet full face shields vs cages?
Answer: USA Hockey is not requiring players wear a specific helmet or facemask. For more information about the potential benefits of a full clear shield, please read our facemask guideline.
Question (Tim P.): Why is the renewal fee not discounted for our upcoming renewal at the end of this month?
Answer: USA Hockey provides all members with year-long benefits. Included in your registration at no additional charge are the world-leading off-ice and on-ice training materials and educational opportunities. We continue to provide at-home and virtual programs, adapting to the needs of our members, including practice plans and training developed by leaders in youth development focusing on physical, social and mental well-being. For parents with children playing hockey, knowing that coaches and officials are trained, certified and background-screened by USA Hockey before working with your kids helps provide peace of mind. USA Hockey coaching and officiating education and certification programs have long been lauded as the gold standard by peer groups. Members have free access to the USA Hockey mobile coach app that features age specific on-ice and off-ice drills. All members of USA Hockey receive important insurance coverage that not only protects the individual, but also allows our programs and rinks to operate. Additionally, members receive a subscription to USA Hockey Magazine, the most widely circulated hockey publication in the world.
Question (Ben T. from Colorado): I am looking for information on how to set up competitive, safe and enjoyable youth scrimmages and practices to help our local hockey program advance beyond socially distanced drills.
Answer: If your program has advanced beyond socially distanced drills, you will want to begin resuming normal practice and games. For more information about free age specific on-ice drills, please visit USA Hockey’s practice plans or download the USA Hockey mobile coach app. Coaches looking to attain certification for this season can attend any of our virtual clinics. All clinics are available nationally, meaning you can register for ANY clinic listed, even if you don’t live in that specific district. This allows for greater flexibility based on your schedule. Coaches are encouraged to visit our free Coaching Webinars featuring Martin St. Louis, Jeff Blashill and more for additional hockey conversations.
Question (Mike from Nevada): I wanted to know if under USA Hockey are we allowed to return to playing games and tournaments? We recently went through tryouts and team placement, we had a tournament the following weekend, and then were told that according to USA Hockey and our governor we can’t play games?
Answer: USA Hockey is sanctioning hockey for the 2020-21 season. That said, all USA Hockey programs should follow local health and safety guidelines. It is possible that your local government has increased restrictions not allowing your rinks to host hockey games. Continue to communicate with your local organization or rink for more information about when games can be played.
Question (Jimmy J.): I'm curious why checking is being considered to be taken out this year?
Answer: In some areas of the country, by agreeing to temporarily eliminate checking in games, state government leaders have allowed players to get back on the ice and play games. As we continue to navigate through the pandemic, we expect that these types of restrictions will be removed as conditions improve.
Question (Rich G. from Michigan): When will the fall season start for 10-year old girls?
Answer: As conditions differ across the country, unfortunately there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Our best advice is to communicate with your local association or rink for the latest information. We know in a good part of the state of Michigan that, as of August 27, rinks are not open and we’re diligently working to ensure kids have the chance to play hockey throughout the state this Fall.
Question (James L.): I heard a rumor that they are only going to allow nine kids and one goalie on a bench at any given time? Is that true? If so, how are the other kids going to get playing time?
Answer: In some areas of the country, ice rinks are limiting the number of people inside of rinks. Depending on bench size, rink capacity and local government guidelines, local hockey leaders are putting together several different ways to organize the ice in order to maximize playing time for kids in practice, scrimmages and games. As we continue to navigate through the pandemic, we expect that these types of restrictions will be removed as conditions improve.
Question (Shawn N. from New York): If youth hockey resumes in New York state, what is USA Hockey’s stance on allowing parents to be at the rink watching their kids?
Answer: USA Hockey is supportive of parents watching their children play hockey. To ensure that facilities stay open and our kids have a place to play this Fall, it is important that ice rinks comply with local and state guidelines.
Question (Adam Z.): Thank you for taking these questions and for working with USA Hockey to get the kids back on the ice. Can you let us know the average time players come in contact with each other during a check?
Answer: USA Hockey, through body contact studies of over 15,000 player sessions at all age levels prior to the pandemic, found that players come into contact in immediate proximity with one another through body checks less than three seconds or less total throughout normal course of play. The amount of time depends on the level of play, but full information on the study can be found here.
Question (Will T.): My 12U son has started house league and we are so happy to be back on the ice! Our rink also offers an All-Star program where the more advanced players are selected for a team that does some level of travel but not as much as a true travel team. There would be 3-4 tournaments that would involve out of state travel and hotels. We’ve done the All-Star program the past few years and it’s a great addition to the house league program but I have concerns with travel, hotels and know knowing exactly what the COVID situation is in other locations versus here in my town. I’d like to get your perspective on risks of travel hockey vs. house league.
Answer: Whether you play local or travel, hockey provides the same great benefits to kids, including physical, mental and social well-being. Traveling and tournaments with a large number of participants from multiple locations is a personal choice, and could increase exposure.
Question (Ben T. from Colorado): We have a loyal and deep-rooted adult recreational hockey league that needs insight on how to resume their activities. Can you speak to how other communities have successfully restarted their USA Hockey sanctioned adult recreational leagues?
Answer: Our best advice is to work with your local rink(s) on a safe return to the ice. As state and local guidelines vary across the country, there is no one-size-fits-all nationally, outside of practicing proper hygiene and social distancing when possible. The good news is that your league and rink can partner together in ensuring appropriate state and local guidelines are followed so games can be played. Our medical experts have shared that with taking appropriate common-sense precautions – it is safe to play hockey, noting, of course, it is not completely without risk. Hockey players are covered head to toe in protective equipment without skin-to-skin contact, and studies show players are within a six-foot radius of another player for less than three minutes per game. All of our resources on safe return to play can be found here.
Question (Kristen H. from Arizona): Are you going to be holding the February Pond Hockey in Eagle River?
Answer: Yes, we are currently working on the registration launch for the 2021 Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships. Keep following USA Hockey social media accounts and USAHockey.com for more information.
Question (Tom E.): I’m from Michigan. How will the seminars and testing be conducted this year?
Answer: As we continue to adapt to the needs of our membership, all testing and certification is currently available in a convenient interactive format, here. All clinics are available nationally, meaning you can register for ANY clinic listed, even if you don’t live in that specific district. This allows for greater flexibility based on your schedule. Temporary coaching cards are available until Dec. 31, 2020. For more information about the virtual clinics, as well as the temporary coaching certificate, click here.
Question (Susan Y.): Will coaches be given penalties or run the clock for not wearing a mask correctly on the bench?
Answer: USA Hockey is not instituting a rule at this time. It will depend on what the local government, rink or association has put in place as a policy.
Question (Greg M. from Colorado): What responsibilities do on-ice officials have in enforcing Return to Play guidelines while on the ice? If an official observes a clearly sick player on the ice is the official responsible for removing the player from the game similar to a possible concussion or do officials have to enforce social distancing on the benches?
Answer: The official’s role is to enforce the playing rules of the game and contribute to the creation of a safe and competitive environment. Return to play guidelines and the management of teams and players is the responsibility of the coaches, youth hockey organizations and the leagues. For information related to COVID-19 and officiating, please visit our officiating FAQ page.
Question (Michael T. from New York): If we do not register to referee this season will our tenure clock have to be reset or is there an exception?
Answer: USA Hockey is aware of the concerns involved with COVID-19 and the challenges that have been created. As a result, special consideration may be provided regarding the tenured program on a case-by-case basis at a later time when more information is available considering the season. USA Hockey is confident that hockey will be played this season and encourages all of our members to continue their participation.
Question (Jen K. from Pennsylvania): Are there any specific recommendations for sled hockey teams, or any precedents already set? I am struggling to balance the safety precautions with carrying on with the season. Specifically, I am thinking about how we would socially distance with loading kids into the sleds off the ice, carrying the sleds on ice, pushing them in the sleds on ice, and unloading from sleds off ice. While we could say only family members can complete these tasks, I think that would greatly limit the number of children that would be able to participate. Our volunteers are highly instrumental in helping families with this – largely due to the size and significant needs of many of our athletes.
Answer: USA Hockey recognizes that the challenges with sled hockey are magnified. Many of our athletes that have to be helped into and out of their sleds can be at increased risk of COVID infection and serious consequences. Participation in any activity should be done in consult with your physician to make the best informed decision. While playing sled hockey this season is a personal choice, there are many ways to help mitigate risk and provide the safest possible environment for those that wish to play. Coaches, volunteer staff, players and parents should all be practicing good personal hygiene, wearing masks, social distancing and cleaning/disinfecting all equipment after each session. Consider health check screenings prior to each session.
Players should consider coming to the rink dressed to minimize preparation time at the rink. Getting on the ice will need to be organized and sequential to minimize waiting in a group. Designated waiting areas should be labeled along the boards to maintain social distancing. More space may be needed for each individual to account for the sled and other equipment. Consult with your rink facility manager/operator for specific protocols for pre and post ice procedures.
If possible, only family should be involved in assisting players into sleds and on the ice. This helps to minimize exposure to volunteers. If this is not possible, it would be advisable to group volunteers with specific families and not have a single volunteer help with getting everyone on and off the ice. Creating multiple small groups or pods can help minimize potential spread. On ice players should maintain social distancing standards while waiting for drills.