Arizona Rubber

Arizona’s and New Mexico’s Authoritative Voice of Ice and Inline Hockey

After three months off due to pandemic, IHAAZ teams back to work

 

Option 5

Landon Jans was like every other IHAAZ player over the last few months – he just wanted to get back to playing the game he loves.

That opportunity, once seemingly out of reach after the sports world stopped spinning in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, finally arrived and was welcomed with open arms.

IHAAZ held its state qualifier festival at the Peoria Sportsplex the first weekend of June and Jans and his Knighthawks teammates hit the floor for games that mattered and that were cherished a little more because of the absence of the sport for nearly three months.

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“I missed being around my teammates and seeing my friends from other teams. I also missed a real IHAAZ game,” said Jans, a member of the 10U Knighthawks team.

Of course, it sure beat the alternative of the new normal as of late. Nothing compares to the excitement of playing actual games.

“I have been playing in my garage and that was getting boring,” Jans said.

Landon’s father, Dustin, the coach of 10U Knighthawks and one of the tournament organizers, was equally thrilled to see IHAAZ return to play.

“It was awesome,” Dustin said. “I think the kids needed to get out and play. For me to see the kids play and compete was special.”

IHAAZ’s festival in March was one of the last sporting events in the state of Arizona prior to the quarantine going into effect.

The one in June was one of the first sporting events in the state coming off the quarantine.

It came with its share of challenges for sure in getting things going again, but the league was ready for what was ahead in getting a festival off the ground amid a pandemic.

It had, after all, already pulled off a festival in March that had plenty of safety measures in place. That experience provided a road map for the latest tournament.

“We learned a lot from that and spent a lot of time planning this one,” said league tournament director Nick Boyarsky. “The framework was there from March and we went into it very elastic in how we dealt with everything.”

The hope all along was to ensure a festival would be played in June, that some sense of normalcy could return to the league.

But Boyarsky and others involved in the league knew a return to play would mean a different approach to finishing out the season.

And that was fine.

“As soon as we got cleared to hold an event, we said we’d do one qualifier event for state finals and then have the state finals (which are scheduled for the end of June),” Boyarsky said. “We opened up the qualifier to existing teams and to any new teams that wanted to play.”

Two teams not in the league opted to give it a shot, that being the Blue Devils at the 14U level and the Labeda Arizona Roller Knights in the 10U division.

Both teams enjoyed the experience.

Marc Kamin, who put together the Blue Devils team, said it’s possible the program will compete in future IHAAZ events beyond this year.

“It’s up in the air right now, but we’d like to participate in both ice and roller hockey going forward,” Kamin said. “It was a great experience.”

The league’s decision to open up the June festival and state finals to teams outside IHAAZ made it possible for that experience to exist and provides an extra boost to the momentum the league opened the season with.

“We started the season with higher numbers and more interest than we’ve had in a long time,” Boyarsky said. “We built momentum and being able to finish the season with momentum still in place, and maybe even extended it.”

That alone made the extra steps and rules in place worth it.

“It was a little disruptive for them but once they were on the floor playing, you could see the life come back. You could tell it was pretty special,” Boyarsky said. “It was worth all the headaches of trying to come back.”

IHAAZlogo2-e1448170686736Each player could only have one member of the family at each game and teams had to arrive just 20 minutes before the start of the game and be out of the arena 15 minutes after their game ended.

Handshakes after a game were replaced by stick taps. One of the league board members even turned his power washing commercial industrial cleaning business into a sanitation business that serves the same commercial and industrial customers. The weekend of the festival, the company took time to spray down areas throughout the arena, including locker rooms, to kill off bacteria.

The business, named Yavapai Sanitizing, was a sponsor of the tourney as well.

Dustin Jans said that while several added precautions were taken that changed the regular format of the tourney, the players seemed to handle the new normal of the tournament well.

“These are kids and really don’t understand everything going on,” he said. “All they want to do is have fun and play hockey.”

He added it was important to have the tournament in order to bring a little structure back into the lives of the players.

“Kids need sports,” Jans said. “I I think a lot of the kids didn’t know what to do with the time off and maybe picked up some bad habits. Sports are needed for structure.”

IHAAZ makes strides every year and its ability to find a way back to some sense of normalcy is a big deal for the league.

There was a time, after all, when no one was sure if the season would resume. Now, as the end of June approaches, teams are gearing up for a run at a state championship.

“It’s a good thing for roller hockey and a feather in our cap that we are going to be able to crown champions,” Boyarsky said. “It’s a minor miracle we are going to be able to finish out the season. It’s two months later, but still.”

Jans said it is indeed important that the league is going to be able to put a bow on a season like no other in the history of IHAAZ.

“I think everyone wanted to play and finish the season,” he said. “For this to happen, it gives everyone something positive to look forward to, and we all need that right now.”

Option 2

Jans also added he liked the fact that new teams got into the mix for the latest festival and believes that will help grow interest in the sport and IHAAZ itself going forward. Though the season was interrupted by a pandemic, much was gained over the course of this season. That bodes well for the future.

“I think our board did a lot to grow the game and bring more kids in,” he said. “We had a bigger number of independent teams and more ice (hockey) kids got involved. They did a lot to make sure more kids could play the game.”

And ultimately, a season will have a true finish.

“It’s important that we complete the season,” Boyarsky said. “That’s what our whole series is about. We’re getting there in a different way, but we’re getting there.”

Photos/IHAAZ

— Brian Lester

(June 24, 2020)


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