After being shut down for two weeks in October by New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, the Keene ICE community ice arena reopened again a few weeks ago. This bodes well for the Keene State College men’s and women’s club ice hockey teams, as they use the Keene ICE arena as their practice facility. However, Keene ICE being open again doesn’t promise anything beyond practice for the club ice hockey teams.
Bobby Rodrigue, the head coach of the KSC men’s club ice hockey team and the Director and Manager of Operations at Keene ICE, said that in a normal athletic year, the men’s club ice hockey team would have played nearly 20 games by now. However, due to COVID-19 restrictions, they haven’t had the opportunity to play a single one yet.
“The policies with club sports prohibited travel, games and things like that for the [fall] semester,” Rodrigue said. “Both men’s and women’s teams have been going practices only. With the men’s team, we actually just held an intrasquad scrimmage, we called it the red and gray game, Saturday evening (November 21). It was as good of a way to put a cap on the semester as you could kind of expect.”
Although the club ice hockey teams would love to have seasons in the spring semester, nothing has been confirmed or denied yet as far as a game schedule and plan goes. However, Lynne Andrews, the Director of Recreational Sports at Keene State College, said in an email on Monday, November 23 that the teams will have the opportunity to practice in the spring semester at the very least.
“The clubs finish up their fall practices this week and plan to resume practicing in January again when students return to campus for the start of classes,” Andrews said in the email. “At this time, there has been no decision on whether the clubs will travel for games second semester.”
Rodrigue also said that the status of the ice hockey team’s seasons are still in question, as there are too many things that can happen between now and January.
“It’s funny, late summer I think for most of our opponents, they all pulled the plug for the fall and said, ‘Yeah, we’ll be ready to go January 1,’ and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘How the hell do you know what January 1 looks like?’” Rodrigue said. “I can’t predict what January 1 looks like. I can’t predict that right now, never mind back in August when they were saying that.”
“Truthfully, right now I would say everything’s up in the air,” Rodrigue continued. “I would say whether students return to campus on time, as scheduled, is a question mark. I think whether club sports will be able to start up right away is a question mark. I know varsity athletics are hoping to keep going through the break. I could tell you that if the varsity sports teams are able to come back early from break, we fully intend to ask that our guys be able to do the same. But it’s not a fight worth having right now because the world could change five times between now and then.”
However, if the teams are able to continue practicing in January, the Keene ICE arena should be ready for them. Rodrigue said that with plenty of COVID-19 safety guidelines in place and precautionary measures being taken, Keene ICE has been a very safe place all year long.
“The bleachers are closed, the lobby’s closed, the snack bar’s closed,” Rodrigue said. “We don’t allow people into the building until 15 minutes before their ice time and they’ve got to be out within 15 minutes after. They’ve got to wear facemasks every moment until they get on the ice to play. There’s a ton of restrictions. We’re fortunate that ice arenas typically have good ventilation because of the way you have to maintain the internal environment, but we’re additionally fortunate because our building is so new and so state of the art. Our building is totally automated and receives awards for it’s environmental awareness. We’re one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the northeast. So we’re lucky that I’m able to manipulate the air exchange for when we need it. I can literally control the rink from my phone right now, it’s pretty crazy technology that we use.”
Furthermore, Keene ICE has set up an automated screening process that people are required to take in order to get into the arena. The screening, which can be accessed on their website, keeneice.com, asks for basic information along with three questions relating to COVID-19. The three questions are, “Do you or any member of your group have any symptoms of COVID-19 or fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher?,” “Have you or any member of your group had close physical contact (six feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from two days before illness onset or, for asymptomatic patients, two days prior to test specimen collection) with someone who is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 in the prior 14 days?,” and “Have you or any member of your group traveled in the prior 14 days outside of New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut or Rhode Island for non-essential purposes?”
Rodrigue said that once a person fills out the screening, they are almost in the clear to enter the arena.
“Once people answer the questionnaire, they get a QR code on their phone and that’s what they use to get in,” Rodrigue said. “It’s a unique code to you each day, so each day you have to answer the screening questions. Like if I tried to use my same code tomorrow, I would get rejected. So when you get to the rink, there’s a scanner that scans your code and then it prompts you to take your temperature, then it’ll beep and give you a green light that says your access to the building is granted, or it rejects you.”
Keene ICE is strict with COVID-19 safety on their website in more ways than just the screening questionnaire too. When you initially go to the website, a note from Arena Management pops up, and part of that note says, “Visitors must comply with all State of NH Arena Guidance (including COVID-19 testing, if so required) and Keene ICE reopening protocols. Please review our COVID-19 page to stay up to date on rules and regulations for our building to stay open and operate safely. Keene is currently under a face mask ordinance for all public buildings. Masks are required in lobby, locker rooms and restrooms.”
The website also has a COVID-19 tab on their main menu with links to the New Hampshire state COVID-19 guidelines as well as the CDC recommendations on COVID-19 safety.
Rodrigue said that the safety measures in place at Keene ICE have paid off so far, as they have been made aware of only one positive COVID-19 test result within their arena since July.
“I think the entire time we’ve been open since early July, there’s been one positive case that we’ve been made aware of that came into the building; a referee who came in, notified us the next day that he was positive,” Rodrigue said. “We disinfect every locker room and the benches between every use. We disinfect all the door handles and all the touch surfaces every two hours during the day. We’ve got extra hand sanitizer stations everywhere, we’ve got one-way traffic in and out. We’ve got automatic doors, so for the most part people don’t have to touch doors. So we’ve kind of been one of the leaders in New Hampshire as far as the rinks go. It’s paid off for us because we’ve had no outbreaks.”
“That’s actually one of the ways that the college was able to get comfortable with the club sport teams being there, because the reality is all the other athletic teams and club sports teams are all using Keene State facilities, and in this case Keene State rents ice from the rink,” Rodrigue continued. “So I think because of the notoriety of how strict we are out there, it helped the college to become comfortable with doing that.”
If the club ice hockey teams are fortunate enough to have seasons in the spring semester, Rodrigue has a lot of faith in his men’s team.
“Overall honestly, the new kids are great, they’re exciting, and we’ve had a ton of really good returners,” Rodrigue said. “I had 14 seniors graduate, so a lot of these returners have been kind of waiting on the shelf, sort of waiting their turn. Certainly many of them have been impact players, but they haven’t been the guys we rely on, they haven’t been the leaders, they haven’t been the studs yet, and we have every reason to believe they’re going to be.”
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