It’s supposed to be Canada’s game. For the better part of a fiscal year, though, it was one thing Canadians were restricted from partaking in. Whether it was at ice arenas, local rinks, frozen ponds or ODR’s in the backyard. It didn’t matter if they were high-ranking junior leagues, youth leagues or city rec leagues. The COVID-19 pandemic put the brakes on the game of hockey nationwide, in an unprecedented way.
After nearly 16 months without hockey — among many, many other things — Canada has slowly begun to return to normalcy, as rinks begin to open fully and players get back on the ice.
It was a year where two of the country’s premier youth events were canceled, with the PeeWee Quebec in February and The Brick earlier this month in Edmonton. So when the puck dropped at the Montreal Meltdown, the 29-year-old event was a symbolic beam of hope for hundreds of hockey families.
“Amazing,” said tournament founder Dave Harroch. “People just want to play hockey. We don’t care, we just want our kids to play hockey. It feels like we’re normal again.”
Started in 1993 with just 11 teams, the Meltdown has swelled to more than 300 boys and girls teams across 11 age groups in a typical year. While Canadians have gotten the go-ahead to return to hockey, travel restrictions and closed borders still limit the 2021 event in some capacity. No American teams were admitted, and a field that usually consists of participants from countries around the world were limited to the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
That’s okay to Harroch and the current field of teams; they’re just happy to be back on the ice.
“Up ‘til last week, we were limited to 25 fans per game,” he said. “As of this past Monday, we’re up to 50. We’re lucky enough to have LiveBarn in the venues to provide streaming for parents and people who couldn’t get in as well.”
The country, like the rest of the world, is not completely in the clear. Precautions are expected to continue for the foreseeable future, and any remaining restrictions will continue to be levied slowly. Harroch and his team have followed any and all protocols throughout the process in an effort to deliver high-quality and safe events to participants.
July 2nd marked the official start of the Montreal Meltdown, with five Girls’ Divisions competing on opening weekend. Over the next four weekends, more than 400 games will take place, before closing out festivities on August 2nd at the Pierrefonds Sportsplex.
The month-long tournament will see hundreds of teams and families finally able to satisfy their hunger for hockey. What’s the expression? ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder.’ After nearly a year-and-a-half hiatus, Canadians can be summed up in three words.
“We’re just happy,” said Harroch.