BLAINE, Minn. — Hockey arenas around Minnesota can officially be open again as of Monday, June 1, under orders from Gov. Tim Walz. But since making a sheet of ice is a multi-day process, many of them have gotten a bit of a head start in the last few days, and some arenas have had a “soft” opening to try out the new policies put in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
At the Super Rink, which is part of the National Sports Center in the north suburbs of the Twin Cities, half of the building's eight ice sheets were up and running as of Thursday, May 28. Arena manager Pete Carlson worked with Octagon and local agent Chris McAlpine, a former Minnesota Gopher, to invite some local NHL players out to Blaine early in the week. They tested the ice conditions, and the new protocols they have put in place in an effort to provide some social distancing and a safe, clean environment for players.
In some ways, an arena like the Super Rink, and a game like hockey, is ideal for the social distancing that is needed in efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We’ve got large gathering points. We don’t have a lot of people coming in to watch. We don’t have touchpoints like a ball that you pass around with your hands,” said Carlson, who has been at the Super Rink since it opened in the late 1990s. “We’ve got gloves on and a stick on a puck, so you’re not touching it with your bare hands. Figure skaters don’t touch anything.”
Minnesota Hockey, the governing body for the sport in the state, released a set of detailed guidelines with advice from the federal National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how teams should safely return to playing and practicing hockey. Carlson said the Super Rink’s regulations will be even more stringent.
Among the rules they have in place:
- No parents or spectators allowed in the building, just players and coaches.
- Masks required for all staff in the building.
- Masks required for participants on their way into and out of the building. On the ice, they have the option of taking the mask off.
- Temperature checks for everyone coming into the building. Anyone with a temperature above 101.4 F is not admitted.
- Pods of no more than 10 people (nine skaters and one coach) are allowed on each half-sheet of ice.
- Participants may only enter the building 10 minutes prior to their ice time, and must leave the building within five minutes of their ice time ending.
That last one was a challenge for some of the NHLers skating last week. Especially for goalies like Charlie Lindgren, the former St. Cloud State star who has played a half-dozen games for the Montreal Canadiens last season.
“I’m known to be a little pokey, so I was a little late getting on the ice usually and I would get off the ice a few minutes before the guys do just to give myself enough time to meet those restrictions,” said Lindgren, who hadn’t skated for 10 weeks and was happy to face a few pucks again. “When you take off that long, it’s a little bit of an adjustment getting back out there. You kind of learn how to play again, but every minute you start feeling better and feeling more like yourself.”
For many players, the locker room banter before and after ice time is the most enjoyable part of hockey. That’s gone under the new regulations that allow 10 minutes before ice time and require an almost immediate exit of the building as soon as skates are off.
“It wasn’t terrible. Getting there and having to wait in your car until it’s literally 10 minutes before and they unlock the door, that part was a little weird,” said former Gophers forward Travis Boyd, who has played 24 games for the Washington Capitals this season. “Once you get in there, you have to hurry up and get on the ice. That’s where we’re at right now, and the time we’re living in. It’s not normal, but it’s normal for where we are as a world right now. It’s still nice to get back out there and skate.”
When a team leaves the locker room, Carlson’s staff sprays down every surface with a disinfectant, then allows 50 minutes for everything to dry before another team enters. Currently the Super Rink is just allowing practices, no games. But Carlson is hopeful that rule and the prohibition on spectators will be short-lived.
“If rinks do their job, the coaches do their job, and the participant does their job, I’m hoping we can see some games coming sooner than later,” he said.