Taking a child to hockey practice is a different experience for parents amidst the pandemic.

At the A.J. LaRue Arena, the warm lobby sits empty on practice days leading into the season. It’s a safety precaution. Parents must instead sit in the cold stands, socially distanced with masks. With only one adult allowed to accompany one child to the arena, the stands are emptier than they might be otherwise.

It is not hockey as usual, but parents attending practice Oct. 17 said they welcomed the changes and a sense of returning to some normalcy.

“It’s part of regular life, so it’s nice to have regular activities that we participate in,” parent Graham Borgdorff said ahead of an U-11 practice at the Haliburton arena. “There’s a little bit of disappointment that we aren’t able to do it as a family right now, but physical activity is important and some normal things are important.”

About 160 kids have returned to the practice ice for the Highland Storm. The season will be different, with only 3-on-3 and in-house competition. Off the ice, players and parents must wade through additional safety precautions.

Shannon McCracken said the new rules can be a little frustrating at times, such as the doors only being open 10-minutes before the practice and locked if missed. But she said her son is excited to start hockey again and they are thankful it is going ahead.

“Everybody is doing their best and we just have to figure it out within those guidelines,” she said.

Cynthia Hutchinson said her son loves being out on the ice and the new restrictions are understandable.

“It means the world just to be able to get out of the house and do something, be active,” Hutchinson said. “We’re just happy to be out on the ice so we’re going to do whatever it takes to be out there.”

Games are due to start this weekend, the product of months of effort by the Highland Storm to keep the hockey season alive, even if restricted. So far, there are no confirmed COVID cases stemming from the practices.

“They’ve put in an incredible amount of works and hours just to make this happen,” McCracken said of the Storm executive. “I’m truly thankful for the amount of dedication they have to youth playing hockey.”

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