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Head games: How Prince George minor hockey players are dealing with continuous changes to COVID-19 restrictions

Cariboo Hockey forms cohorts under six-team umbrella

B.C.’s current provincial health orders prohibit sports teams from travelling outside their own communities as a way to help prevent further COVID-19 spread.

The restrictions were put in place as the second wave has hit the province hard with record-setting daily case counts, hospitalizations and deaths in a 24-hour span.

However, teams and clubs under viaSport are still allowed to continue Phase Three procedures, meaning they can host practices and training programs, so, in response, the Cariboo Hockey group in Prince George has come up with a short-term solution.

The six teams under its umbrella have been placed into two cohorts, allowing young athletes to develop, practice and train until the time comes when it's safe to once again travel and compete against other programs across B.C.

The cohorts consist of the following:

  • Cariboo Under-18 Cougars
  • Cariboo Under-16 Cougars
  • North Central Under-18 AA Bobcats
  • Northern Capitals
  • Cariboo Under-15 Cougars
  • North Central Under-15 AA Bobcats

This past weekend was the first time Cariboo Hockey saw its cohorts in motion and as PrinceGeorgeMatters witnessed first-hand, the intensity and desire to play remains in the hearts of the teenagers on the ice, as well as their coaches and support staff.

STAYING STEADY

Off ice, most players are dealing with this particular challenge of keeping up with the times.

This has included a maximum number of players in a dressing room, 10 on average according to signs within the Kin Arenas, limited interaction with teammates and leaving the rink as quickly as they can, a contribution they’ve committed to in meeting public health guidelines.

“It’s been tough not seeing a lot of people and the season being cancelled. So it’s just about trying to get in as many games as possible,” says Cariboo Under-15 AAA Cougars’ Cameron Schmidt about the cohorts.

“It’s been alright with the mental aspect, but sometimes it gets a little rough just with everything that’s happening. My teammates help me get through it all and they do a very good job at that. The coaches are great with that too, you know, they’re always there to talk to if we need anything.”

Schmidt’s club was one of three from Prince George that travelled south to Abbotsford every two weeks to play in the Cohort Cup.

That tournament was ultimately cancelled after Dr. Bonnie Henry placed a regional-specific order of no sports games or travel in or outside of Fraser Health on Nov. 7.

The order was extended and expanded to the rest of B.C. on Nov. 19.

STAYING POSITIVE

The Cariboo cohorts have even included the Northern Capitals, the only Under-18 Female AAA club in all of northern B.C.

This has given them the chance to pin themselves against the boys and has led to recent success in the form of a 5-0 rout of the North Central Under-15 AA Bobcats Saturday morning (Nov. 28).

Forward Nancy Moore says rolling with the punches outside the arena has been tough on the girls in needing to find ways to stay united from a distance. 

“It’s definitely different and a different approach to the game obviously, because with arriving at the rink only about 20 minutes before, it’s kind of difficult to get into it mentally and show up physically ready as well because you can't warm up with the girls and everything,” she explained to PrinceGeorgeMatters.

“We can’t be with each other 24/7, you know, social-distancing and wearing a mask. Sometimes we forget, but we’re trying our best. Getting together and becoming one is difficult, but I think all of us together, we’ve created a strong family and we work really well together. So COVID-19 really hasn’t affected us in that way.”

Moore claims herself as the hype-woman: the one who fires up her teammates in the locker-room before each contest and brings out the best in everyone.

She adds the position is very important to her as it attributes to a positive life off the ice and an aspect needed in these times of uncertainty.

“That’s always kind of been my spot as a player,” she said.

“I feel like if we go into a game negative, it’s not going to turn up well. You have to keep the positivity up there, otherwise it falls apart.”

STAYING HUNGRY

Cariboo Hockey’s cohorts, thus far, have also brought out the internal competitive edge.

This was demonstrated perfectly Sunday morning (Nov. 29) in a match between the Cariboo Under-16 AAA Cougars and the North Central Under-18 AA Bobcats.

It ended in a 6-6 draw at CN Centre, but around mid-second period, sparks were ignited between players on the ice.

Boards were banging, sticks were slashing and, at one point, arms were flying; in fact, a total of 94 penalty minutes combined were handed out to both clubs by the final buzzer.

“Teams are pretty rival,” explained Cougars forward Parker White to PrinceGeorgeMatters. 

“The older guys really wanted to put it to us, but we ended up fighting back. It was a good game! It feels so nice because we haven’t played a game in like a month. It’s just really fun to get back out there.”

From this, the cohorts have demonstrated that local young athletes are still hungry for hockey.

They’ve also created the sense of a ‘second try-out,’ seemingly giving players the chance to show coaches of an opposing team what they may have missed from the roster-selection process.

White also says adjusting to the public health order changes has been difficult, but notes his team has developed a system of staying positive and having fun.

“That’s all that matters,” he said.

“It’s super-hard. You really have to be in the mindset of keeping calm, not getting too mad, we got to keep the boys going, but everyone has been pretty good so far. No one has been too down, but it’s hard for sure.”

Cariboo Hockey teams will be back in the Kin Arenas this weekend, Dec. 5 and 6, for more scrimmages and practices.

Fans are still not allowed to watch the games, but Cariboo Hockey has livestreamed most of its inter-organization contests.