Hockey all the time

At least one tradition will carry on in Penticton this summer: hockey school.

Okanagan Hockey Group president Andy Oakes confirmed Tuesday the company is renting ice from the City of Penticton beginning in June to allow approximately 160 student-athletes in its academy program to wrap up their season, which ended abruptly in March during league championships.

On-ice groups will be capped at a maximum of six players to start. The academy wrap-up will be followed by weeklong hockey camps in July and August.

Oakes said the approach emphasizes a gradual, safe return to limited operations.

“Everything that we’ve been working on with the City of Penticton and Spectra has been all around meeting the health and safety requirements that are out there now for all of us,” said Oakes.

“It’s all around small groups, all around proper separation, whether that’s entering the building, on the ice, all those sorts of things,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

Oakes noted plans could change at any moment given the pandemic, but he expects the camps, which typically feature groups of 24 to 30 kids, to run with maybe half those numbers.

Still, “Having operated here since 1963, we felt it was really important (to operate camps) because we have the ability to continue to provide the service to people.”

Bregje Kozak, the city’s director of parks and recreation, told council Tuesday that in honouring its ice-rental contract, OHG is providing an importance source of revenue to the municipality during turbulent times.

As for opening up arenas to the broader public for concerts and sporting events, “We know that won’t be able to happen until we have broad treatment (for COVID-19) or herd immunity achieved,” said Kozak.

She did, however, offer some news on the next phase of reopening the city.

Phase 2B is expected to begin sometime in June and include reopening of parks and fields for rentals and organized use, such as soccer and softball leagues, along with playgrounds, which are particularly difficult to manage from a health perspective.

“We’re working very closely with the (BC Recreation and Parks Association) and other organizations on how we can open those up, because (playgrounds) have a lot of touch points and social distancing is hard to achieve,” said Kozak.

If everything goes well, the final phase of the city’s reopening plan would start in September with a “new normal,” which Kozak promised will look much different than pre-COVID-19 normal.

Oakes said the Okanagan Hockey Academy, which boasted eight teams in bantam and midget divisions this season, is preparing for its new normal, too.

“There’s going to be hockey next year, there’s going to be school next year, but it’s going to look different,” he said.

“We might not be playing games for a while, but there will be training.”

In 2016, the OHG commissioned an economic impact study that estimated its operation were worth nearly $20 million to Penticton annually, including $1.8 million in wages for 30 full-time jobs and another $2.2 million in direct local spending.