After a two-year absence, Polar Pond Hockey returned to Hay River over the weekend, at least the actual hockey playing on the ice of the river.
The two social aspects of the event – a gala on Friday evening and a beer garden – were cancelled because of concerns about the coronavirus.
On Friday afternoon, organizers announced that the Chief Medical Officer of the NWT and the Town of Hay River had recommended cancelling parts of the event.
Terry Rowe, an executive member of Polar Pond Hockey, said it was “strongly recommended” that any large gatherings be cancelled, meaning the beer garden through the weekend and the Friday evening gala.
“So we agreed, obviously,” he said, noting organizers did not wish to endanger anyone.
Hockey games scheduled for Friday were also cancelled.
Rowe said, at that point, organizers just didn’t know what was going to be happening and if the whole event would be cancelled.
Organizers became aware of the recommendation to cancel the social events at about 2 p.m. on Friday, after the new pavilion at Fisherman’s Wharf had already been set up for the gala.
That would have been the first activity at the new pavilion built by the Town of Hay River with support from Polar Pond Hockey and others.
“Our options were to either cancel the whole event or to just cancel those two (the gala and beer garden) because the recommendation did state that we could go ahead with outdoor events,” said Rowe.
At that point, out-of-town teams were already on the way to Hay River.
“We had people travelling,” said Rowe. “So we decided to host the tournament with no venue, no liquor licence, and no dance.”
The hockey action began at 11 a.m. on Saturday and continued on Sunday.
“It’s still pretty busy around here,” said Rowe on Saturday afternoon.
In all, 34 teams registered, and about 28 showed up.
Organizers offered refunds to teams not interested in participating in the changed event.
Despite chilly and windy conditions on Saturday, teams were on the ice.
“It’s awesome to see the community out here,” said Rowe.
However, there were some differences due to the coronavirus fears.
“We’re just keeping our space and no handshakes,” said Rowe.
The new pavilion was used for registration and by scorekeepers. Otherwise, only a few people were allowed inside at a time, sometimes to dress or to warm up.
Others got dressed for hockey in snowbanks or in vehicles, and some brought enclosed trailers.
Rowe noted the beer garden is the most important for event revenue.
“It will be difficult for us this year financially,” he said.
However, he added Polar Pond Hockey plans to be back next year, as long as there is no coronavirus or hot weather.
Last year’s event was cancelled by unseasonably warm weather. The 2018 event was skipped when Hay River hosted the Arctic Winter Games, because they also happened in March and relied on the same volunteer base.
Rowe noted that the two-year absence was a factor in deciding to proceed with this year’s event.
“We didn’t want to endanger anybody, but we wanted people to come out and have fun and play some hockey,” he said.
Rowe estimated that about 150 players participated on eight rinks.