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The men's 50-plus league plays a game at the member-supported Schroh Arena in Saskatoon.

Kayle Neis/The Globe and Mail

Saskatoon’s Schroh Arena is a special place for local men who play senior hockey.

The arena, built and supported by its members, is home to the city’s 50- and 60-plus leagues. Founded by Stan Halliwell and Reg Morrison, the leagues give long-time lovers of the sport a place to play – and a social atmosphere that has kept some on the ice through their 90s.

Ken Crump, president of the Saskatoon 60+ Hockey Club, describes the community as not just a group of old friends, but a therapeutic-support system for players who, because of older age, have survived their partners or have limited social circles, and for whom weekly games provide an opportunity to get out of the house and make connections.

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Dale Babuik, left, ties his skates beside a HEPA filter. Enhanced cleaning, smaller teams and mask-wearing are a few of the new measures being taken to get players back on the ice.

Kayle Neis/The Globe and Mail

Saskatoon’s senior hockey leagues were as hard-hit as anywhere when COVID-19 struck and everything shut down. Also, their players occupy a demographic that’s highly susceptible to the virus. It took teamwork and strong communication – like when they first created the leagues – to kick-start the game.

Rick Kopeck, a former psychiatric nurse who has played six years in the 60-plus league, established a protocol that would return the men to the ice.

Rick Kopeck has played six years in the 60-plus league and worked to develop new guidelines so they could start playing again.

Kayle Neis/The Globe and Mail

Working within provincial government guidelines, Kopeck devised a plan under which players could get back to tying skates and competing head to head. The new rules limit team sizes to 15, and make masks mandatory in the dressing room. Smaller teams and distancing were just the beginning as Kopeck worked to get the league back.

Richard Hofferd cleans the men's dressing room with an electrostatic disinfectant.

Kayle Neis/The Globe and Mail

State-of-the-art cleaning routines are now standard. HEPA filters and electrostatic sprayers ensure the dressing rooms are as clean as possible. Kopeck says these regimens have been a blessing in disguise, as the league will help them prevent even more common illnesses.

The leagues give long-time lovers of the sport a place to play and the opportunity to socialize, though that's been curtailed with the pandemic.

Kayle Neis/The Globe and Mail

As the season starts and players get used to the new rules, the social aspect of the game has taken a big hit. Halliwell, who at 86 is the most senior player in the league, notices a change in the dynamic of the dressing room. Players only have 22 minutes before and after the game to get dressed, on the ice and back home.

Despite the challenges of not being able to relax with teammates after their hockey workout, players are glad they can safely return to playing the game they love.

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