The arena in Hay River is back in action after a burst pipe in the floor stalled the start of ice season for three weeks.
Users were back on the ice last week, ending a drought of ice time that began earlier this year with the start of the strike.
“Their first practice was Wednesday (Oct. 7) and every kid was grinning ear to ear,” said Kristen Fischer, who was watching her son Ethan, 6, practise on Oct. 11.
Also in the stands was Kathy Vandertuin who was sitting with her granddaughter, Jaidyn Henderson. They were watching another of Vandertuin’s granddaughter, Adison, practise.
“The girls were really anxious to get back on the ice and play hockey,” Vandertuin said.
Jaidyn Henderson lost part of her first year playing because of the strike last winter, which closed the Don Stewart Recreation Centre.
“That affected them more than this year so far because they lost a lot of time,” she said.
User groups found other ways to keep active.
Coun. Jason Coakwell noted at public meetings the impact felt in the community when the rink or other parts of the facility were not available for curling or swimming.
It’s part of why a proposed renovation of the building has been designed to be carried out in phases, so the user groups don’t lose whole seasons.
The seasons may be shorter but not lost, he said of the plans.
For instance, the swim club did dry-land practices that included crunches and stretches in other buildings.
Minor hockey players spent time on gym floors in schools. Children and adults still made trips to other communities for scrimmages or tournaments.
Pennie Pokiak, president of the Hay River Minor Hockey Association, said told the Hub in February she could see the change the lack of ice time was having on her own family, saying it was harder to get them outside to play without something structured like hockey.
Lorie Steinwand was also in the stands watching her son Liam practice.
The family had a backyard rink last year, so the loss of the arena didn’t really impact them.
“I don’t think they noticed,” she said.
Stephane Millette, the Hay River Hockey League president, said registration numbers are similar to last year at around 65 guys.
“Guys were pretty chocked when we found out that we wouldn’t be on the ice so early,” Millette said.
He said the leak in September may have contributed to low turnout early on.
“I was surprised at how few guys were there,” he said about the Oct. 9 game.
The league is refunding part of the money for players who lost the second half of the season due to the strike, he said.