Sports in Ontario may have taken a hit during the recent surge of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, but others are finding ways to carry on despite some shutdowns.
Some leagues have been allowed to continue to operate such as the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, or the OHL with the North Bay Battalion being considered “elite” amateur by officials. However, the NOJHL and Junior “A” hockey have not been given that designation.
So, the Powassan Voodoos decided to take their talents outdoors.
“It’s great,” said head coach Marc Lafleur of their temporary home on Trout Lake. The rink is located just outside of Average Joe’s in frozen Delaney Bay.
“We have to thank Jim Bruce, the Voodoos owner for doing this on his property by his restaurant. It’s different, but at the same time, something different is always fun to experience. A lot of our guys that are on the ice right now, they’re experiencing the benefits of that so it’s definitely different but it’s a good different.”
“It’s a lot of fun to be honest with you,” explained Voodoos forward Ben White. “It’s a little different than the rink dynamic, but any time you get on the ice with all your buddies and play shinny and work on your skills, it’s a lot of fun.”
“It gives us the opportunity to stay on the ice and be ready for when the season starts back up,” added Jacob Dupont, a recent acquisition by the club who played most of his minor hockey in Texas.
While some other teams have seen players go home during this recent shut down, and the Voodoos have too, Lafleur says the bonding opportunities have been great.
“When I gave them the choice of either going home or staying here, a lot of it had to do with their decision to go on a pond or not because nobody could go indoors and skate. I really like the fact that the kids are dedicated, although not the best of situations, to stick around here to get on the ice to skate around, shoot and pass.”
“It means a lot that there is a spot to practice,” Dupont added. With his home being in Texas, the forward decided to come back after the holiday break to get on the ice. “It gives more opportunity,” said Dupont.
“It’s great,” echoed White on the bonding opportunities with some players in town. “I have an ice shack out on Lake Nipissing. So my buddies and I have been out there, and we had the guys out there last Saturday. There’s about eight or nine of us just catching fish and having a good time. So, strengthening relationships with the guys is always a good time for sure.”
Yet being outdoors means that the team is forced to face some issues they wouldn’t normally while being in the friendly confines of the Powassan Sportsplex. In North Bay recently, the temperatures have dropped resulting in a cancelled practice.
“You’re on the lake so there is a wind factor as opposed to being on an outdoor rink in a secluded area,” explained Lafleur. “You just layer up and once the guys get out there, you’re fine. The heart rate goes up and they get warmed up and they don’t really feel the cold. They’re too busy playing.”
“It’s definitely tougher for sure,” said White. “Your feet get frozen and the snow kind of messes up your tape a bit so shooting is a bit harder, but the first 15 minutes is pretty cold but then your body gets used to it and you get a sweat on and it’s not too bad.”
“It can be tough at times,” added Dupont. “I’m not used to it for sure as someone from Texas, but it’s fun and a great view and an all-around great experience.”
For Lafleur, the outdoors also offers up some challenges when it comes to coaching.
“You can’t lose track of why you’re doing this outside right now. Our main goal was to get the kids to skate, to keep their stride, keep their timing, some execution with passing and shooting. So, we go out there and make some teams and we don’t really have any drills per se, we’re having the guys scrimmage on some pond hockey and feel the ice.”
“Starting next week, we’re going to start getting into some drills as we will have more numbers in terms of keeping them sharp and elevating their heart rate.”
For both the coach and White, they believe that keeping up the practices will help out when the NOJHL continues and all the teams are back on the ice.
“I have some friends on other teams and I hear guys are going home and taking time off,” explained White. “For our team to stay on the ice and not lose our touch and keep our skills fresh, it will be an advantage for us.”
“We want to be as sharp as possible after a three-week layoff,” added Lafleur. “I really do believe that who comes out of the gate the sharpest out of the three or four big teams in our division, I feel they will get first place in the regular season. I really like the fact that the guys thought about that when they made their decision.”
If the Voodoos do finish first, Trout Lake will deserve an honourable mention.