The Highland Storm announced March 18 its season would be ending prematurely with the A.J. LaRue arena due to become a COVID-19 vaccination centre.
The Storm announced that with the arena becoming a clinic at the start of April and bookings closing, the second part of the season would close more than a month early. This came after the organization had already put hockey on a two-week pause March 15 due to rising COVID-19 cases in the area.
Storm president Jason Morissette said it was bittersweet.
“You have to look at the positives. You can’t be entirely negative about it,” he said, adding local hockey players got to be on the ice far more than any others in their region. “We really were kind of looking out for each other and making sure we tried to do the best job we could to keep kids on the ice as much as we could.”
The Storm faced plenty of hurdles operating amidst COVID-19. Only inter-league play was possible, with the pandemic disallowing travel. The pandemic forced reductions in the number of players on the ice. A December-February lockdown shortened the season. Finally, the second session ended well short of its April 17 end date.
But Morissette said it was worth it to give youth something to do in a difficult year.
“Just the mental health side of our youth, our community. It’s been a real, real struggle. We heard time and time again from parents, a lot of thanks for providing something for the kids to go to each week, a distraction that was good for their physical and mental wellbeing,” he said.
Storm player Darian Maddock said it was a choppy year with the stoppages due to lockdown, but added it meant a lot to get to play.
“I would have just been sitting at home, doing nothing really,” Maddock said. “It was nice to have something to look forward to after school.”
Morissette said there is planning to come. Besides the pandemic, the league faces challenges such as a shortage of referees.
But he said after weathering the past year, the executive will have the experience to draw from for whatever restrictions could remain.
“It has been the most challenging of seasons in the history of Highland Storm, without a doubt. But we have strong numbers, we have strong volunteer numbers, we have strong parents that are supportive and our executive is very united.
“We did it because the truth is, we really, really are passionate about the Highland Storm,” he added. “But we’re also really caring about the health and wellness of our kids.”