After a three-month break, the Des Moines Adult Hockey Association (DMAHA) was able to not only kick off and complete its fall season; it made good on efforts to provide 250 adult league players with the best possible experience at all skill levels.
"Coming out of nowhere and everyone questioning how to handle things, the pandemic hit us hard," said Karena Ries, DMAHA secretary, and who also serves as the league's Midwest Amateur Hockey Association representative. "As league leaders, it is always a struggle to decide how much to control and how much to let your captains and players control. This situation was no different."
Although DMAHA players were vocal about wanting to play, board members chose to wait in order to determine the best, safest ways to get players back on the ice.
In total, DMAHA play was delayed for three months.
Back to Business
"We were surprised at the overwhelming amount of people that wanted to get back to playing," Ries said. "That being said, working with adults is a bit easier than with kids — our participants make their own decisions, and they have a better understanding of what they are choosing to do or not do."
DMAHA's B and C league teams returned to the ice the week of June 14. The association installed a lengthy list of new procedures based on guidance from the CDC, Iowa Department of Public Health, and the Polk County (IA) Health Department, as well as USA Hockey directives.
Here are a few of the most significant changes made by DMAHA leaders:
• All DMAHA players must sign an updated waiver in recognition of the ongoing pandemic.
• Officials enforce a "dress and play" policy, which means locker rooms are not available. Players who come dressed in full equipment are guided to a designated space — one that's disinfected after every use — to put on skates.
• Teams cannot enter Buccaneer Arena earlier than 15 minutes before scheduled ice time and must leave 15 minutes after practice or ended games.
• The facility is open to 50% capacity (with no spectators in attendance) to ensure that social distancing guidelines can be followed.
• No food or beverage is served at the arena, and the facility's lounge area is closed.
"Our ability to control where players were or could be within the building was a big part of getting our leagues back to play," Ries said. "In order to be effective, one side of Buccaneer Arena was shut down completely, which meant our players entered, dressed, and exited on the same side of the building. This really helped with the ease of cleaning."
As for Buccaneer Arena, hand sanitizer stations were installed, highly touched surfaces are disinfected regularly, and signage regarding hand-washing, social distancing, and illness prevention tips are posted throughout the facility.
Tips for Safely Restarting
As other leagues and association prepare to open their doors again, Ries offers these three tips of advice to make the transition as smooth — and as safe — as possible:
• Listen to your players. As organizers, we have what's best in mind for our members, but, sometimes, it's easiest to take a step back and let the players make the decisions.
• Work with your rinks. Your local rinks likely have some protocols in place, but there's nothing wrong with talking about additional protocols for your league times.
• Don't forget about your officials. You're not just asking players to get back on the ice; you're asking your officials to come back out as well. In some areas, officials are even more exposed than your players, so make sure you're providing them with everything they need to feel safe.
"USA Hockey has done a great job of staying in contact and making organizations feel like we are all in this together," she said. "Throughout all of this craziness, we're still receiving plenty of inquiries of people looking to play and wanting to get on a team this fall.
"It just goes to show how much hockey players truly love the sport and being part of a team!"