By Tris Wykes

WEST LEBANON – Lebanon High senior Aidan Yates watched a hockey teammate step out of his car around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and jokingly issued a taunt in the Campion Rink parking lot.

“Home dresser!” he called out with a grin.

That’s an insult among male players once they reach around age 12. The cool kids get dressed at the rink, not in their living rooms. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, however, everyone who comes to skate at Campion is now a home dresser. 

Lebanon High goaltender Toby Cromwell.

“It’s going to be a strange year,” said Lebanon coach Jim Damren. “A month ago, I wouldn’t have thought we were going to have a season. But we have to be sure to follow the rules, and games and practices are going to be a moving target on a day-to-day basis.”

The Lebanon and Hanover high school boys and girls teams started practices this week and are scheduled to begin games in January. The start of Vermont high school winter sports was paused indefinitely on Nov. 24, with governor Phil Scott saying the delay will be re-evaluated on a weekly basis.

The Lebanon boys’ hockey coaches urged their players to arrive early Tuesday so assistant coach Brad Whitaker could make sure they’d answered online health questions for the school and the rink. He then read temperatures with an infrared thermometer. Whitaker, whose 9-to-5 job often has him on building sites, wore a work-related reflective vest while doing so.

“Dark parking lot, teenagers driving and I’m wearing all black,” he said. “Got to be careful.”

Around him, players lounged in their padded hockey shorts and shin guards, pulling on shoulder pads, elbow pads and jerseys as start time approached. Several teenagers opened their car doors or lowered the tailgates and turned up the vehicles’ stereos. All wore masks or face gaiters.

Caution also prevailed on the ice, where players and coaches wear face coverings of some sort. A new style that attaches to the inside of a skater’s wire or plastic face shield is fast becoming popular. 

Wearing a mask inside of a mask was “hot and stuffy, but that’s to be expected,” said Lebanon senior Andrew Duany. He played for an under-18 team in Laconia during the fall before he and his parents decided appropriate Covid precautions weren’t being taken. 

The team captain this year, Duany walked among his teammates after Tuesday’s skate. He asked them to strictly adhere to mask protocol both at and away from hockey, so their squad can do its best to remain healthy and keep its season afloat.

Teams are allowed to enter Campion’s lobby 10 minutes before sessions begin. Players then present a smart phone bar code, previously acquired from the rink’s website, to a small kiosk to prove they’d answered health questions and provided contact info. The machine then takes the entrant’s temperature. The hope is that following such procedure will allow quick and accurate contact tracing in case of a rink user’s later positive Covid test.

“The robot thing was a little weird,” Duany said. “But using it went fine.”

Lebanon High senior Andrew Duany, right.

Once inside the rink’s main space, players and coaches head to one side of the rink or the other. Using the East side by the Zamboni garage means a squad’s players are spread among the building’s four locker rooms, which have their doors propped open.

If the locker rooms were used by the team on the ice when the next group shows up, the arriving players spread themselves amongst chairs outside the boards on the north and west sides. Because Campion allows no spectators for practices or games, the bleachers have been rolled back for more open areas.

“Everyone’s been really good about complying,” said Tucker Garrity-Hanchett, a Campion employee and the Hanover girls hockey team’s goaltending coach. “We’ve been up front about ‘This is what you need to do if you want to play hockey this winter’ and they’ve gone along with it.”

That leaves parents to wrestle with watching games only on live stream video when available. 

“I’m going to need therapy after this season,” said Mark Cromwell, whose son Toby is a junior goaltender for the Raiders. “I’ve always been able to watch him play in person.”

Campion’s lobby door was unlocked as Hanover girls players, their practice finished, exited through doors on the building’s far side and began to appear in the parking lot. The Lebanon boys entered at the same time and 10 minutes later, an attendant appeared and cleaned the push bars and handles on the doors leading into the lobby and beyond.

“I think we’ve done the best job we can with all the rules that are in place,” Hanchett-Garrity said. 

Notes: Toby Cromwell, drafted earlier this year by the Quebec Major Junior League’s Shawinigan Cataractes, said the franchise holds his rights for three years and didn’t need him for the current season. That’s good, because traveling to Canada would have required at least two weeks of quarantine and specific permission from the Canadian government. Cromwell has instead been playing for the Avalanche club team based out of Hooksett this fall… The QMJHL this week suspended play until at least Jan. 3 because of Covid-19 issues… Lebanon junior defenseman Luke Greene jogged out of Campion after practice wearing just his hockey shorts, turned on his car and its heater, then jogged back inside to finish getting changed… Damren usually has his players at the rink 75 minutes early to stretch and warm up and discuss drills and tactics. The coach may now resort to Google Meet sessions, but is wary of overloading his charges, who are already dealing with plenty of academic work online… Lebanon’s tentative boys hockey schedule features 12 games, four of them against Berlin. Damren said the season is slated to end Feb. 27 and he does not believe it will be extended in the event of postponements… As in past seasons, volunteers will be needed to staff the clock, public-address system and the penalty boxes for Raiders games, so that might be a way for some parents to see their kids play in person… Caitlin Slider, a standout on the Hartford High girls hockey team as a freshman last season, is repeating the ninth grade and playing at the Holderness (N.H.) School this winter. The Bulls are part of the Lakes Region League, which offers enhanced streaming broadcasts of its members’ hockey games, complete with graphics, announcers and multiple camera angles.

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Lebanon High assistant boys hockey coach Brad Whitaker.