Game on: Children’s sports return to Northern Ontario as COVID-19 restrictions ease, but some teams are still waiting


Young athletes from Northern Ontario are back in action this week with the easing of the latest COVID restrictions.

At the Haileybury Figure Skating Club, treasurer Maria Zafiris-Overton said young skaters are bubbling with excitement to be back in the arena.

She says a few have been training on outdoor rinks over the past few weeks and have been sending photos and videos to their coaches.

“They’re little soldiers out there, so it’s nice to see them all bundled up, working on their edges,” said Zafiris-Overton, whose seven-year-old daughter is just starting figure skating.

“You may have seen figure skaters wearing hockey jerseys and gear just to keep warm.”

The Powassan Voodoos junior hockey team had to cancel a few of their outdoor practices over the past few weeks because it was too cold.

Banned inside their arena, general manager Chris Dawson says they practiced on an open rink on Trout Lake in North Bay.

“It’s kind of funny that the first day of our return to normal ice would have been the best day in the last three or four weeks to practice outside,” Dawson said of the first indoor practice of the team this week.

“We’re finally inside, which we’re not going to complain about.”

With the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League shut down by the latest COVID restrictions, the Powassan Voodoos held practices on natural ice at Trout Lake in North Bay. (Powassan Voodoo)

In Wawa, 80 young hockey players are back on the ice for the first time in weeks.

Minor hockey association president Zachary White said last winter that they were only allowed to hold practices.

He says they usually play games against teams from nearby Chapleau, but that didn’t fit pandemic rules because the two towns are in different health units.

White says this season normally started in the fall, but was then halted in December when the Omicron variant arrived and new restrictions took effect.

Minor hockey in northern Ontario has seen many starts and stops during the pandemic and many teams have had to focus on practices rather than games. (Erik White/CBC)

“So last year was tough for them and this year they got a little taste of what it was like before it all happened at the start of the year and then the shutdown was disappointing again. for them,” White said.

“So these kids, they’ve been missed a lot over the last two years.”

White says his own children are still missing the return of hockey to Wawa.

All three have tested positive for COVID-19 and are quarantining with him, but he hopes negative tests on Friday could get them back in the rink this weekend.

“Disappointed, for sure. Especially my eldest, she’s a stalwart,” White said.

“She loves to play hockey. She lives for hockey. For her, it’s been devastating.”

But it’s a slower comeback for school sports teams.

The Ontario Ministry of Education does not yet allow games or practices for “high contact” sports like basketball and hockey.

Sudbury high school cross-country skiers held their first race of the season on the Windy Lake trails Thursday, while ski clubs have been hosting races for weeks. (Colin Ward)

Meanwhile, the first cross-country ski race of the Sudbury high school season took place on Thursday.

But Lo-Ellen Park Secondary coach Colin Ward says community ski clubs have been holding races for weeks.

“It’s probably frustrating for all high school coaches to see clubs running near full throttle, where your high school students don’t have the same opportunity,” Ward said.

“It’s just another layer of bureaucracy to go through with the schools.”

After losing all of last season, the Timmins Selects were allowed into a school gymnasium in December, but that was quickly closed with a new round of COVID restrictions. (Timmins selects)

School gymnasiums closed have also meant that some club teams are still waiting for the starting whistle.

The 90 kids in Timmins Selects basketball have been on the court only a handful of times over the past two years.

President Jamie Lamothe says that with schools keeping their gymnasiums closed to the community, there is nowhere to play in Timmins.

“Non-existent would be the word I would use. I feel bad for these young kids who haven’t had the opportunity to play sports,” he said.

“We just want to get back to that. Even if it’s just training or having fun in a gym.”


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