The Highland Storm is preparing for a new hockey season this fall with significant changes to allow for play amidst the pandemic.

The organization discussed the season during its AGM Aug. 17. They are preparing a plan for approval by the Ontario Minor Hockey Association (OMHA) under the Ontario Hockey Federation’s (OHF) Return to Hockey Framework. The Storm appointed a new COVID lead onto its executive and formed two subcommittees to address return to play.

President Jason Morissette said they will follow recommendations from the OHF and health officials to make it as safe as they possibly can.

“To not try, that’s really not good. We’re not just going to quit on it,” he said.

The OHF is planning to open on-ice activity starting Sept. 1, according to the Storm’s OMHA Rep Amanda Manning. She reported after two weeks of on-ice training – with a maximum of 30 people on the ice at once – games could start. But games will be limited to the public health unit area and either 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 with no physical contact, according to the OHF framework.

With a limit of 50-people inside a facility, there will be no local league or rep programming, no tryouts, and no tournaments. Team rosters are tentatively nine skaters and a goalie, with a coach and a trainer.

“It’s certainly going to be a different year,” Manning said.

She added although ice training will open in September, the Storm does not expect to be ready by then, and an October start is more likely. Morissette said it is an opportunity to give kids something positive for their physical and mental wellbeing in the pandemic. But he added people will have to dial back competitiveness.

“Our Highland Storm adult partners, as competitive as many of them are,” Morissette said. “We have to basically take a step aside this year to make this work. We really want to have fun … It’s not about winning games and trying to make the NHL and that sort of thing. This is the new normal for now.”

The organization will be working out more details in the coming weeks. Local arena partners will also have to make safety plans for the facilities, Morissette said. He added they will need more volunteer support for both coaching and COVID protocols.

“We’re going to need adults to step up,” he said.

Manning said they have about 130 registrants so far, with the deadline extended to Sept. 1. She said it is important for parents to register by then for organizing purposes.

Morissette said he thinks players will be eager to return. He said people should ask questions as more details are released.

“You don’t really realize what you have until it isn’t there,” he said. “There’ll be a new appreciation for the sport and some of the things we maybe took for granted.”

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