For over 50 years, the end of the calendar always meant one of the marquis Brantford hockey tournaments was about to begin. Players from all over the world including: USA, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Latvia and Hong Kong have descended upon our great city to play in the Wayne Gretzky International Hockey tournament hosted by the Brantford Minor Hockey Association. And, if they were lucky, have the chance to meet The Great One’s dad, Walter Gretzky, who always made time to say hello, visit and sign some autographs.
This year, along with all sports, things look very different. Tournaments are put on hold and the focus has moved to skills development to be ready, when it is safe to do so, to return to full play.
When the current pandemic shut down all organized sports this spring and summer, they found ways to pivot their delivery and engagement with their members. Whether it was through online and dryland training at home, athletes found a way to make it work. When restrictions eased up and facilities were able to open with modifications, Brantford Minor Hockey Association (BMHA) was ready to start their season and help the kids get back on the ice.
BMHA, in conjunction with provincial guidelines for sport, the Brant County Health Unit as well as local facilities, was able to offer a modified season for their players. House League operates with 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 and is running at almost normal capacity. Travel teams have had to adjust and restrictions are in place for the total number of people in each arena as well as contact tracing for everyone. With so many changes and new guidelines to adhere to, the passion to play hockey makes it all worth the effort.
When asked how the players have adapted to all the COVID related changes to the game, BMHA General Manager Kevin Murry praised the players, parents and coaches that make up the hockey community, “No matter where it is or how it is, they want to play.”
Tournaments will happen again. There will still be adjustments and different adaptations along the way. But in the end, it’s all about the athletes, both younger and older, who keep the resiliency and the passion to play alive.