In New Jersey and in many suburban towns across the Northeast, youth hockey is an all-consuming ritual of the cold weather months. Players and their families devote nights and weekends and routinely drive hundreds of miles to compete in multiday tournaments.
“This is a way of life,” said Vincent Cucci III, a lawyer from Scotch Plains, N.J., whose two sons and daughter play on three different teams.
But it is a way of life that has been upended by the pandemic after a number of large coronavirus outbreaks were connected to hockey.
New York has banned games and scrimmages since the beginning of the pandemic. New Jersey and Connecticut stopped competitive hockey and other youth sports until January. And interstate tournaments in the Northeast have been suspended.
In places where youth hockey has not been halted, the normal rhythms have been tossed out the window — no spectators allowed in arenas, locker rooms off limits to players and teams subject to mandatory quarantine if even one athlete tests positive for the virus.
Dr. Perry N. Halkitis, dean of Rutgers University’s School of Public Health and an expert in infectious diseases, said the way hockey is played and its indoor setting made the sport a risky activity.
“It’s really an ideal transmission vector” because of factors like sweat, spit and physical proximity, Dr. Halkitis said.
But to players and parents, canceling hockey means giving up a cherished pastime and the chance to connect with peers when many young people are isolated at home because of remote learning.
Mr. Cucci’s son, Vincent Cucci IV, a 17-year-old senior, said he understands the need for safety but believes that the precautions teams and rink operators have taken are sufficient.
“I’m scared of losing my last season, scared of losing the last opportunity to play with friends I’ve played with since I was 8 years old,” Mr. Cucci said.
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