#LetHockeyPlay

I am writing to implore the Governor to modify his restriction on indoor capacity limits and lift his prohibition of indoor youth sports competitions as applied to youth ice hockey so that our state’s youth ice hockey players can resume competitive play.  The Governor’s stonewalling position on the sport is frankly no longer defensible given how other parts of the economy have been allowed to reopen and, in many respects, reopen in ways that defy common sense and undermine legitimate concerns over virus transmission. 

There are numerous reasons why the sport can easily resume safely, all of which have been previously communicated to the Governor and his staff.[1]    

Sign Up for Verona/Cedar Grove Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

First, an ice hockey rink is an enormous oversized space in width and height, minimizing any legitimate concerns over ventilation.  Specifically, an ice hockey rink measures 200- by 85-feet.  That translates into 17,000 square feet of space just in the playing surface, with the overall space averaging 25,000 square feet. So, for example, if the Governor allowed even just 50 people in a rink at one time, that would convert to 500 square feet per person. This is considerably more space per person than what you currently find in restaurants, gyms, entertainment facilities, tattoo parlors, bowling areas, etc.  And this is certainly more space per person than all other sports. 

Second, ice hockey is considered a "moderate risk" sport by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Under current restrictions in New Jersey, other riskier sports can fully resume and do so in much smaller spaces, buildings, or facilities.  In fact, the risk of transmission of a virus when playing ice hockey is so low largely because close contact, if it does occur, is fleeting.  Indeed, USA Hockey has provided scientific research that indicates players spend less than 3 seconds in close proximity to another player, and less than 3 minutes in total, during the entire course of a 60 minute game.



Third, ice rinks employ sophisticated refrigeration, ventilation, and air conditioning systems to maintain the required temperature level of the ice as well as the air temperature and humidity within the space of the arena itself.  Add to this the uncontroverted fact that hot air rises.  Thus, any aerosols that might be released during momentary contact between players will naturally rise.  Because the height of an ice hockey arena is immense, the possibility of person-to-person exchange of aerosols during play is unlikely, as the air particles will quickly dissipate in the vast open space. 

Fourth, ice hockey players never share equipment, do not touch the puck, and never engage in skin-to-skin contact.  Indeed, they are covered in protective gear from head to toe, including helmets, face shields, mouth guards, and gloves.  Therefore, the risk of transmission through physical contact or other means is merely hypothetical.

Finally, as time passes, it is becoming more and more clear that the state's restrictions have led to absurd and unjustified outcomes.

By way of context, Governor Murphy has authorized casinos, indoor dining, entertainment venues, and gyms to resume operations with proper safety precautions.  Curiously, casinos were some of the first businesses to be allowed to reopen. Even more curious, when Governor Murphy permitted in-door dining to resume, he also allowed smoking in indoor premises, such as casinos, to occur.  As we know, Governor Murphy quickly reversed that decision.  It was nearly impossible to mask just how blatantly that allowance offended his purported concerns over the health and safety of New Jersey citizens. 

In any event, casinos are now open, albeit with capacity restrictions, as are other entertainment venues like zoos, aquariums, horse racetracks, amusement parks, water parks, golf courses, movie theaters, and bowling alleys.  So too are barber shops, spas, nail salons, as well as massage and tattoo parlors.  Indoor dining has resumed to some degree and retail shopping malls are open.  Interestingly, if there is food service offered at a bowling alley, patrons can linger inside mask-less at the same time they bowl, sharing the use of a bowling bowl, without gloves, and wearing used shoes, if rented, in a single bowling lane that measures a mere 85 by 5 feet in size. 

Most recently, the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford partially reopened, resuming operations of its amusement park, water park, snow park, two mini-golf courses, among other attractions.  Notably, the waterpark, though operating at a restricted capacity, can accommodate 750 patrons at a time and those patrons are even welcome to splash down one of its many water slides without a face covering.   

And let’s not forget that essential businesses, including supermarkets, and big lot stores like Home Depot, Target, Lowes, and Walmart have been open throughout the pandemic.  They have been open without any real constraints, as all customers who have frequented those businesses know. They are almost always overcrowded with social distancing treated as a mere suggestion, and patrons entering and exiting freely without temperature checks or Covid-19 clearances.   

As for youth sports, the Governor slowly eased restrictions with respect to outdoor competitions. So, if your child had the foresight to commit to a low-contact outdoor sport, like golf or tennis, your child has been able to stay fit both mentally and physically.  Nonetheless, and thankfully, with time, the Governor gave clearance for other outdoor sports competitions to resume, including medium and high-risk sports like basketball and football.  To be sure, in a sport like basketball, for instance, players wear no protective gear—no helmets, face shields, gloves, etc.  And even though extended close physical contact is inherent in sports like basketball and football and players touch the balls with their hands throughout the game, they still could proceed.  

I provide this context on re-openings to help explain how inexplicable it is that ice hockey—a medium-risk sport with virtually no close contact played in an enormously oversized venue—has not yet been allowed to resume competitive play.  

To be certain, the restrictions have been applied arbitrarily, discriminately, and illogically.  They are no longer sourced in reason or science and they are punitive as they relate to many, particularly youth sports.  The good citizens of New Jersey know that.  Even my 12-year-old son senses the hypocrisy when he recently asked, “How is it that you can go to a casino, but I can’t play ice hockey?” Sadly, there is no good response to this insightful question.  

It’s important to note that ice hockey is not a winter sport.  It is a sport that begins practicing as early as August and then begins competition as early as September. It runs throughout the year, usually ending sometime in mid-March.  According to the Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association, there are over 20,000 registered players in New Jersey.  Most of these players have signed contracts with teams and paid substantial fees for the season.   Though teams have been able to practice, their ice time has been limited, given the current restrictions, and all games have been put on permanent hold.

It’s also important to remember that the sport of ice hockey, like all youth sports, provides a lifeline for our young players.  It is an outlet for them to meet new friends, cooperate with teammates, work toward goals, sharpen their minds, exercise their bodies, practice respect, loyalty, and kindness, and develop confidence, among other things.  Our players not only have been robbed of these essential growing moments, but they have been deprived of them at a time when they are needed the most. 

Our youth have been in school virtually for weeks now, connected to their screens, but totally disconnected from the personal and social interactions needed for them to thrive.  Their social, emotional, psychological, and physical well-being are at risk now more than ever.  This risk is real; it should not be undervalued, and it certainly far outweighs any risk that the virus might present.  Notably, children in this age group are not only resistant to contracting Covid-19, but also have less than .1% of dying from it, according to the most recent demographic information released by the CDC.

Thus, it is clear.  The restrictions must be lifted, and the hold on youth ice hockey must end immediately. 

Many New Jersey senators and assemblymen and women agree, including Senators Kristin Corrado and Assemblymen Jon Bramnick, Ron Dancer, Christopher DePhillips, and Kevin Rooney.  They have urged the Governor, both privately and publicly, to “be a team player” and let indoor ice hockey resume indoor competitions.      

I too urge the Governor to rethink his decision to restrict ice rinks and prohibit play. The sport is a safe sport. The health of our state is at a good place. Responsible and simple measures can protect against whatever concern the virus presents.  In fact, the AAHA has outlined those measures in its plan submitted to the State.  We must not discriminate against our young ice hockey players. And most importantly we must support their social, emotional, psychological, and physical health and well-being by letting them return to play.

In other words, it’s time to drop the puck Governor Murphy and Let Hockey Play.

 

[1] The Atlantic Amateur Hockey Association (AAHA), the volunteer-led USA Hockey Affiliate for Delaware, New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania, and Rockland County New York, has submitted a plan to the Governor on the safe return to play.  That plan is the source of most of the information and data in this article.  USA Hockey, the national governing body for the sport of ice hockey, with over 650,000 member players, coaches, and officials, has publicly supported the AAHA’s plan, most recently in a letter to Commissioner Persichilli and Assistant Commissioner Tan advocating the safe return of the sport in New Jersey.