Green light for certain hockey leagues?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – New York State’s reopening guidelines cover a wide range of sports and recreational activities. However, there is still confusion about why some activities are allowed but others aren’t.

According to the guidelines, high-risk sports such as ice hockey is allowed, though it can only include individual or distanced group training and there can be no pick-up games or league games.

Sports that are considered a “moderate-risk” like flag football and field hockey are allowed to have games as part of organized leagues.

New York has no guidelines for roller hockey leagues and floor hockey leagues. There are some places, such as Frank Young’s Sports Arena in Orchard Park, that have already begun organized leagues.

“We keep sanitizer and masks are worn whenever possible,” owner Frank Young said. “Teams that are not scheduled to play must wait outside until their time is available.”

Other leagues are operating including WNY Roller Hockey at the Northtown Center at Amherst. Eric Haak, owner of WNY Roller Hockey, said he does not consider roller hockey to be a “high-risk” activity like ice hockey.

“I think the mask policy is absolutely absurd,” he said. “You go into a restaurant and have to wear a mask. You sit down at the table and the virus takes a break and it no longer attacks you. I just don’t get the whole concept. If you want to wear a mask, wear a mask, if you don’t want to wear a mask, don’t wear a mask.”

Despite his personal reservations about the mask policy, Haak said the league suggests mask use. Most people who play in their roller hockey games do not wear a mask, according to Haak.  

He said he is not concerned about contracting coronavirus but is worried about a potential shut down by the government.

“For whatever reason, our governor really wants to stick it to certain people and certain fields and industries,” he said. “That’s definitely a bigger concern of mine.”

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was unsure about floor hockey when asked about the topic on Wednesday.  

“I know that roller rinks are not (allowed),” Hochul said.

According to the state, roller skating rinks are a place of public amusement and remain closed under executive order.  

Bowling alleys and their leagues are still unable to operate under the state restrictions. Hochul defended the policy because people would be close to one-another and may share bowling balls.  

Enforcement of the state’s rules is conducted by local health departments. Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein indicated that floor hockey leagues will be able to operate and cited the 11 Day Power Play as one example of an event that will take place.

“Their protocols were good,” Burstein said of the 11 Day Power Play. “The one concern we had was actually with the gatherings of spectators…Usually with sports events, you’re allowed two spectators per player. However, with an event like this where there is going to be a lot of players and high turnaround time with different teams…They reassured us with our protocols they will be under 50 spectators per game.”

Young and Haak said there are no spectators allowed for their respective games. Haak said there will only be 12 people playing at a time.

“From our standpoint, we don’t want to get shutdown,” Haak said. “We follow the protocol as good as we can. We tell people to come to the game and don’t bring your girlfriend or husband or boyfriend…We just try to limit traffic for the most part.”

Haak also pointed out another issue. He runs an ice hockey camp that allows 25 people on the rink. He is still allowed to operate the camp under New York State guidelines, though he cannot have an actual hockey game with 12 people.

“I just don’t understand how that makes any sense,” he said.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said if bars and roller rinks have not filed their reopening plan with New York State, they cannot reopen.