COVID puts chill on hockey spectators in Soldotna

Sep 10, 2020

Hockey season at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex is scheduled to begin Sept. 28. It’s going to look different amid COVID-19.

The administration’s plan calls for building 30 minutes into the schedule between ice sessions for the first two weeks, which will cramp the already high demand for ice rental time. Fifteen minutes is the norm, to Zamboni the ice. The extra 15 minutes is for disinfecting congregate areas and touch points. Team rooms will be closed. Water fountains will be closed, though water bottle fill stations will remain open — and cleaned regularly.

No one will be allowed into the building more than 15 minutes early or stay later than 15 minutes after their activity. Parks and Rec Director Andrew Carmichael said that’s to cut down on too much movement.

“Mom and dad get talking among themselves and kids get antsy and that’s where everything goes everywhere,” Carmichael said.

Players will be asked to dress for their activity before they get to the ice. They’ll be directed to the back hallway to don skates on chairs placed six feet apart. They’ll switch back to shoes on chairs in the lobby, and off they go.

Likely to be the biggest area of consternation will be how many people are allowed in the building at one time — only one spectator per person on the ice. Learn-to-skate classes will allow 25 skaters and five instructors at a time. Shinny hockey and freestyle skating will have a max of 25. For public skate and hockey, no more than 40 people may be on the ice. So, at most, 80 people will be allowed in the arena.

Councilmember Pamela Parker expects that will not go over well with parents.

“I mean, you say one hockey player, one parent. You’ve got the hockey moms that are bringing all of their children to the rink. They’re not going to be happy when you tell them that they either can’t watch their one kid or they can’t bring the other three with them,” she said. “And then also if they play games, I think it’s going to be really challenging to tell families they can’t come and watch and support their kiddos.”

Carmichael said he gets it. But while there’s a lot of space available in the arena for social distancing, it’s more an issue of pinch points when people are coming and going from the rink, and managing mingling in between. If facility users want to have more allowance for spectators, Carmichael said he’s open to suggestions.

“We’re recommending masks but haven’t required them,” he said. “But if the spectatorship voice starts indicating they want more, more, more. Then we’ll say, ‘OK, make us a deal. During these games, the limit goes up to 80 spectators but all 80 need to wear masks.’” 

Administration patterned the plan after what other rinks in the state are doing. Some allow less people than Soldotna, some more. Carmichael said there isn’t a standard approach.

“I can’t use a mean, median or mode score to identify how many people I should put in the building for our facility with so many nuances. Because I don’t have a metric to do that with,” Carmichael said. “It’s about a comfort level and about a perception and at the same token at least imparting as much science as you can.”

Carmichael said he hopes things get more back to normal after the first of the year. Especially since that's when Brown Bears hockey is talking about getting started.

The council will likely revisit the issue. At Wednesday’s meeting, several councilors expressed interest in allowing more spectators. They did not reach a consensus on mandating mask usage for the public.