The two Twin Cities-based junior hockey organizations are taking different approaches to a letter sent by the state to the Maine Amateur Hockey Association.

Friday’s letter, which was signed by Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, warns of potential consequences if the Maine Amateur Hockey Association doesn’t follow the state’s community sports guidelines. Those guidelines list hockey as a moderate-risk sport and recommend the games not be played indoors, but they do not explicitly prohibit them.

The state’s letter came after a hockey referee who tested positive for COVID-19 exposed roughly 400 people, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, to the coronavirus while working eight games in Maine and New Hampshire earlier this month.

Junior hockey teams aren’t part of the Maine Amateur Hockey Association (MEAHA), but the Twin City Thunder decided Saturday to postponed their USPHL National Collegiate Development Conference team’s season opener against the Boston Advantage, hours before the puck was to drop at Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn.

The Thunder’s Tier III Premier League team’s Oct. 18 home game against the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs also is postponed, at least for the time being.

“Obviously, that letter last night sent shock waves through the state,” Twin City co-owner and NCDC coach Dan Hodge said Saturday afternoon. “We got to do what the guidelines say.”

This is the second time that the Thunder have had to delay their NCDC home opener. Last month they had an unspecified number of players test positive for COVID-19, which forced the entire team to quarantine for two weeks.

Meanwhile, the Maine Nordiques of the North American Hockey League decided to still play their Saturday game against the Northeast Generals at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Maine opened its season Friday with a 6-2 win over Northeast.

Nordiques owner Darryl Antonacci said Saturday that the state’s letter was directed at youth hockey, not junior hockey.

“Everything with COVID is day-by-day, everything is adjustable day-by-day,” Antonacci said. “We can only do what we know about at the time.”

Youth hockey under MEAHA, the state governing body, and USA Hockey, the national governing body for amateur hockey, includes learn-to-skate programs up to midget hockey at the 18U level for boys and U19 for girls.

Junior hockey is for 16-to 20-year-old males. The NAHL is governed by USA Hockey, but the USPHL is not, at the junior hockey level.

Antonacci also owns the Maine Nordiques Prep Academy, which includes U16 and U18 teams at the youth level. Those teams play league games in the Beast Series but are also governed by MEAHA.

On Saturday afternoon, the Portland Press Herald reported that the MEAHA announced on its website that it has called off all of this weekend’s games throughout the state.

“MEAHA is the regulatory body for youth hockey in the state of Maine, and we abide by their guidance,” Antonacci said. “Their guidance, however, does allow practices to continue.”

The state’s letter said that failure to comply with the guidelines could result in being charged with “a Class E crime punishable by a fine up to $10,000, as well as restitution to the state.”

Hodge on Saturday expressed frustration about discerning the difference between a recommendation and a mandate in the community sports guidelines.

“That’s the biggest issue, when does it become a recommendation and when is a rule, because the letter says guidelines, but you read it, it reads like a mandate,” Hodge said. “At the end of the day, I don’t want to write a check for $10,000. It’s all hearsay at our level; when you aren’t involved with the schools or involved with the high school sports directly, it becomes hearsay because the outreach to our organization has been minimal, aside from the fact (that) we had those players test positive for COVID.”

Those positive tests forced the Thunder to postpone home games against the New Hampshire Junior Monarchs two weeks ago as well as games at showcase last weekend.

Maine’s community sports guidelines say that teams that play moderate-risk sports, such as hockey, shouldn’t compete against teams from other states. The state does have exemptions for people traveling from New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. The NAHL and the USPHL, the Nordiques’ and Thunder’s leagues, have teams in all of the exempt states except Vermont.

“I think the clarification piece is huge right now, trying to figure out what is a guideline and what is a mandate,” Hodge said. “We will follow what mandates that are laid out for us. The clarification piece is key right now. We are trying to read the tea leaves, I guess they would say.”

Antonacci said he read the community sports guidelines about hockey teams not playing teams from other states. He said the Maine Nordiques Youth Hockey program, which has teams from the mite (U8) to the bantam (U14) levels, has been following the guidelines.

“Those are guidelines that MEAHA has for community sports, and I did see some reference to them a few weeks ago,” Antonacci said. “MEAHA has taken a stance on that, and we follow for our youth hockey program exactly what MEAHA is doing.”

The Maine Prep Academy U16 team has played two home games this season, both against the East Coast Spartans of Massachusetts at the Colisee on Oct. 3.

The Thunder are in contact with the USPHL regarding what to do next. Twin City’s NCDC team also was supposed to host the South Shore Kings (Foxboro, Massachusetts) next weekend.

“We are going to have to move the games to New Hampshire, or try to figure out another option,” Hodge said. “We are working with the league right now to figure out what the best-case scenario is for all teams. You got us, you have the Advantage and the Kings, as well. It’s one of those things, we got to work all together.”


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