SASKATOON -- Fall in Saskatchewan means gearing up for the winter hockey season as tryouts and camps get underway and many are asking questions about the practicality of masking rules in city rinks.

The five Saskatoon City run rinks such as ACT, Lions and Cosmo Civic Centre require masks to be worn at all times, even while on the ice. The privately run rinks like Harold Latrace, Shroh and Jemini don’t and that’s concerning for the head of The Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association (SMHA).

“We’d like the city to give Saskatoon minor hockey an exemption with respect to kids wearing masks on the ice. We’re fully supportive of parents, coaches, players wearing masks in the rinks,” Kelly Boes told CTV News.

On Monday, Boes went before a city committee to ask that players, coaches and referees be permitted to remove their masks during play.

Boes tells us that in his research of hockey associations across the country, he’s learned that Saskatoon is one of the only cities in Canada with this mask rule.

“I would think they’re all following the same science and I would think that if there’s a real problem with not wearing a mask while playing hockey, they would not be doing it this way,” he said.

University of Saskatchewan researchers recently completed a study about the effects of masks on hockey performance.

“We concluded that even during high-intensity exercise skating with full equipment, wearing a facemask didn’t affect their performance,” Phil Chilibeck, U of S Professor of Kinesiology and Researcher told CTV News.

Chilibeck does admit that the study didn’t involve gameplay situations, but rather the athletes were skating individually at high intensity to adhere to COVID-19 distancing rules.

“We didn’t have any skills where kids were receiving pucks or playing in a game.”

It’s the physicality of hockey and the safety of players that the SMHA is most concerned with.

“An extra split second or second could mean the difference between seeing a guy coming to hit you or not and we don’t want to see any injuries come out of wearing a mask that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” Boes said.

He’s not only concerned with leagues that are full-contact, Boes says even in non-contact levels players can slam into the boards at high speeds if their peripheral vision is obscured or blind spots exist.

“There’s lots of bumping that goes on whether it’s inadvertent or in purpose, there’s boards around the rink so if anyone ends up having a fall or gets bumped by accident, it’s relatively hard on the head to hit the boards,” Boes said.

The other important element of hockey according to Boes which will be affected by wearing masks on the ice is the verbal communication between players and goalies as well as for the referees.

The city is expected to review the minor hockey exemption next Monday.

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