DOVER, N.H. — As 9-year-old Finn Horan was listening to a conversation his parents were having on speakerphone late Thursday afternoon that hockey was being shut down for two weeks because of a coronavirus outbreak he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
Finn’s dad, Tim, was in the process of breaking the news to his family.
“To be honest I thought he was lying or trying to be funny,” Finn said. “Then I found out he wasn’t.”
Finn is a goalie for the Dover minor Squirts, the team Tim Horan coaches and was scheduled to make a trip to Waterville Valley last weekend for a game.
“I love hockey and I didn’t want anything to happen like this,” Finn said. “I was really, really shocked and surprised.”
Gov. Chris Sununu decided to suspend all hockey activities at indoor rinks for two weeks following positive COVID-19 tests for 158 people associated with the sport over the last two months. The cases are reportedly from 23 different hockey-related organizations and teams in New Hampshire.
Members of the Blackhawks, a peewee team out of the Rochester Youth Hockey League watch a game last season. Players include, from left, Jackson Leonard, Luke Holt, Riley Kondroski, Caden Smith and Luke Vittorioso. (Photo: Handout)
Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, said “there are additional connections with out-of-state ice hockey organizations.” He also said people who have acquired the virus through hockey have been associated with, and potentially exposed others, in at least 24 different K-12 schools throughout the state.
“We’re a hockey family,” Tim Horan said. “We’re disappointed to be without it. I can’t say I was surprised seeing how things were being handled in other areas. Hopefully, it will be a short break and we’ll get back to it.”
Rinks will be cleaned and sanitized and guidance on the sport will be revised and more testing will be conducted. The suspension, which also affects ice skating in general, is in effect until Oct. 29.
'We love it. We live it.'
College team activity is also on hold, in addition to youth and amateur organizations.
“We’ll do what we have to do to make sure the kids are safe,” Tim Horan said. “I feel it reached a point where the governor had to step in and slow (the spread) down a little bit.”
Bill LeDuc is president of Rochester Youth Hockey, which had been going for about two and a half weeks. Teams practice three times a week with games on weekends.
“We have to follow all the guidelines and implement them to get the kids back in arenas and indoors safely,” he said. “It’s important for everybody. We’ve had conferences and calls with other rinks and each other. It’s a fluid situation for everybody and we’re no different.”
The stoppage has had a trickle-down effect.
“It’s a huge disappointment,” LeDuc said. “Hockey is near and dear to family and friends. We love it. We live it. It’s a very big disappointment for the kids. It’s something they look forward to every week. We’ll continue to follow the guidelines in order to give the kids a season.”
Spaulding High School hockey coach Jamie Ferullo said his players aren’t allowed to take the ice as a team until the Monday after Thanksgiving. However, many are playing Midget hockey for the Rochester youth organization.
“It’s an important time of year to get back into hockey shape but it’s about keeping the kids safe and we’ll do whatever we have to, to have a high school hockey season,” he said.
Some parents disagree with decision
Jeff Routhouska, whose son Cameron plays for the Dover-based Seacoast Spartans Elite Squirt squad, disagrees with the shutdown and believes the issue has been politicized.
“I understand people on both sides,” Routhouska said. “It’s a real thing. It’s not fabricated. My biggest problem with the whole thing is that the governor is taking away another choice. You can’t go to school. Now you shut down sports. What’s next? It’s kind of ridiculous to shut down an entire program for one or two positive results. Our civil liberties are being taken away.”
Matthew Roy, president of the New Hampshire Amateur Hockey Association, said the group on Friday put out a statement discouraging youth groups from going out of state to play.
Dan Toland is vice president of Dover Youth Hockey.
“It was disappointing,” he said of the stoppage. “It’s tough. I certainly understand it but it’s tough to hear. Generally speaking, we’ve been conservative but it felt like every day or every week something new was popping up. We were always concerned about schools going back and what the impact would be.”
Toland’s son, Danny, plays for the Squirt 9-10s.
“We had a couple games this weekend so he was bummed,” Toland said. “We worked really hard but we know there’s no way to eliminate the risk.”
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