The Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association (SMHA) asked the City of Saskatoon to let players on the ice without face masks.

“We just want to give the kids an opportunity to play the game for 60 or 90 minutes on the ice where they’re allowed to play the game to really enjoy themselves,” SMHA executive director Kelly Boes said, in an interview after the meeting.

Boes asked the Planning, Development and Community Services committee on Monday whether they would consider the measure.

With no provincial mask order, the decision whether to allow unmasked players on the ice falls on the city’s council.

Saskatoon recently re-implemented a mask mandate in all city facilities, which includes rinks, after COVID-19 cases started to spike.

Last year, the provincial health regulations prevented virtually all sports activities. Through the pandemic the government prohibited games but did allow players to practice, albeit with strict regulations on how to enter and exit buildings, how many players were on the ice and how far apart players were.

Boes told the committee different organizations allow players on the ice without donning masks.

He said the SMHA players, ages 5 to 17 would prefer to play without them, that the interactions in hockey wouldn’t be enough to spread COVID.

Responding to a question from Mayor Charlie Clark, city general manager Lynne Lacroix told the committee, “there will be multiple different ways of approaching COVID safety depending on the jurisdiction and depending on the organization.”

He also said the masks could obstruct a players’ vision.

“With hockey, if you take an extra second looking for the puck in your feet, you may end up taking a hit that you didn’t see coming,” he told Global News.

Phil Chilibeck, a University of Saskatchewan Kinesiology professor, also spoke to the committee.

He summarized a series of studies about whether COVID can be spread easily during hockey games, concluding the findings are “mixed” and adding his own research to the discussion.

He recounted how he and other scientists at USask studied if masks affect the amount of oxygen athletes breathe in.

He said the trials, which examined athletes on bikes and timed them to simulate hockey shifts, showed the masks made little or no difference.

“The mask condition had some small effects on their physiological responses, but not enough to affect their performance,” he told Global News.

He told the committee his son plays in the SMHA. Chilibeck said his son is old enough to get vaccinated and has gotten his shots, but he’ll still be encouraging him to wear a mask during games.

“Just in case there are kids out there that are not vaccinated,” he said.

In response to questions from councillors, city officials pointed out Saskatoon is the COVID hotspot in the province right now.

The council voted to forward the information to the Governance and Priority Committee scheduled for Monday, when a report on the city’s mask policy is due.

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