From as early as 6 a.m., Damian Kowalewich is at an ice rink with his team for practice around four times a week.
Although an arena without any fans or parents is a reality for most hockey players these days, the coach for Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey U13 is making the best out of a tough situation.
Kowalewich said it’s been taking all his creative muscles to figure out how to keep his team of 17 interested, while still learning new skills without any physical contact.
|Juan de Fuca minor hockey coach and View Royal Coun. Damian Kowalewich. (Kathy Kitchen/EO3 Photography)
Most practices consist of improving shots on goal, continuous passing drills, and speed relay races. But the process to getting on the ice in the first place is a laundry list.
First, players and staff must take their daily health check and mark their temperature on a board. Then, they have to change into their gear in divided stalls. Finally, they can hop on the ice, while maintaining physical distance, and have the option to remove their masks that they wore since entering the building.
With more than 700 kids in the program, the minor league sport has managed to continue operating since returning in the fall.
But the thought of livestreaming games for parents is now a distant memory, as Kowalewich’s team was only able to play three games before they were placed under stricter regulations in November.
During an average season, the team of 11- to 13-year-olds would have played between 15 to 20 games on the ice by now.
“I realize that parents aren’t able to watch their child play hockey and it’s a big deal,” said Kowalewich.
“But just know that we’re watching and we’re responsible. I’m truly lucky that I feel like I have the trust of the community.”
The coach, who is also a View Royal councillor and sergeant at Saanich Police Department, sends out monthly updates and pictures to parents about what staff have been teaching the kids.
Harold Bloomenthal, president of the Juan de Fuca Hockey Association, said the teams have been spread out across The Q Centre in Colwood, Westhills Arena in Langford and CFB Esquimalt’s Wurtele Arena, as the Juan de Fuca Arena has been closed until March for repairs.
“We’re still trying to have fun and not freak out because we want to keep things safe,” said Bloomenthal.
Notably, there hasn’t been a single case of COVID reported among staff or players within the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association.
Kowalewich said although he doesn’t know where the season will go, he’s made it an important lesson to teach his players that they should be pushing themselves to improve their skills – even though no one will be watching from the stands.
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