Nolan Howe is frustrated with how his team has been portrayed the past few days since the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced it is investigating a COVID-19 outbreak within the Maine Nordiques organization.

Howe says the cases do not involve the junior hockey team that plays in the North American Hockey League.

“I think there’s frustration of the fact there has been a lot of misrepresentation towards our junior program in particular,” Howe, the NAHL team coach, said Friday. “There have been zero players from our (NAHL) team that has tested positive and there are reports out there that’s not the case. It’s unfortunate the news spreads the way it does nowadays. We know it’s difficult times for everyone and it’s our job to make sure everyone is safe and healthy.”

On Thursday, Howe told the Sun Journal that he had no comment regarding the CDC’s investigation. Nordiques owner Darryl Antonacci could not be reached Thursday and also had no comment Friday.

Maine CDC would not comment Thursday if the cases involved the NAHL team, the Maine Nordiques Prep Academy 18U and 16U teams, or within the youth hockey organization. Howe did say he hasn’t had any personal contact with the CDC.

There has been uncertainty from the Lewiston-based Nordiques and Auburn-based Twin City Thunder organizations about which guidelines pertain to junior hockey, those of youth sports or those of college sports, whose playing status currently is up to the individual conferences and not the state.

Howe doesn’t believe junior hockey teams should have the same guidelines as youth hockey.

Maine Nordiques coach Nolan Howe.

“I know for a fact we care about our players, we take care of our players and operate under different standards than youth hockey does and amateur hockey does,” Howe said. “Our players are very serious about this, they follow all the rules and they keep themselves very isolated. For these young men to lose opportunities to continue to develop as players and people is frustrating as their coach and as their leader. We are going to continue the things we can control, and that’s being as safe as possible, as proactive as possible. We will continue what we have done and that’s the right thing.”

The Maine Community Sports Checklist, which, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, pertains to junior hockey as well as other youth, club and high school sports. The updated checklist from the Maine DHHS on Nov. 6 said those activities should stop until December and games should not resume until Jan. 11 at the earliest.

When arriving at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee, people are checked in, fill out a form for contact tracing and have their temperatures checked. Everyone entering the building also is required to wear a mask. The team has had dine-and-watch options for fans at its games. Through seven games, the Nordiques have averaged 71 fans per game, according to the NAHL attendance figures.

The state’s indoor capacity limit has fluctuated this season, and Gov. Janet Mills recently announced a limit decrease from 100 to 50 people in a building. Maine Community Sports Checklist says players, coaches, volunteers, officials and spectators count toward the gathering limit.

The Nordiques are going on a break for the next 12 days before their next two games against the Danbury Jr. Hat Tricks on Nov. 24-25 at the Colisee. Howe said that the break was planned before the CDC investigation.

“This (is) a scheduled break; I want to make that clear, this was a scheduled break in our schedule,” Howe said. “The players are maintaining our bubble, they are maintaining our safety (protocols), but we are going to be taking some time off here due to our schedule. There may be false assumptions on why we are taking a break, but this was planned months ago.”

Howe declined to speculate about whether those Danbury games will be played. The Nordiques’ prior two games against the Jr. Hat Tricks this season were postponed, one last week and another this past Wednesday.

On Thursday, an agreement was reached among governors of the six New England states and New Jersey to not allow interstate competition among youth and school hockey teams starting Saturday and running through December. Junior hockey is not explicitly mentioned as part of that agreement.

NORDS GAME POSTPONED

For the fourth time in the past two weeks, the Maine Nordiques’ NAHL team had a game postponed. This time it was Friday’s game against the Northeast Generals at the New England Sports Villiage in Attleboro, Massachusetts .

In addition to the two Danbury games that were postponed, the Nordiques home games last weekend against the Maryland Black Bears also were postponed.

The Nordiques played Thursday in Attleboro, losing to the Generals 3-2.

Late Thursday night, the Generals twitter account posted a statement saying: “The @NAHLHockey Generals game vs the @MaineNordiques scheduled for Friday, 11/13 has been postponed. This was not a team decision. Both teams are ready to play and feel that we have interpreted ALL state mandates correctly. We would never put the safety of anyone at risk.”

Howe said he respects the Generals decision to postpone the game.

Last week, Massachusetts updated its guidelines, saying Massachusetts-based teams are only allowed to play other Massachusetts-based teams. Any facility that hosts out-of-state teams might be asked to shut down.

Rob Reilly, the director of the New England Sports Village, said that, like Maine, there is uncertainty regarding where junior hockey falls in Massachusetts’ guidelines.

“Some felt there was a grey area in the guidelines regarding junior hockey, but for right now it falls under ‘adult’ and therefore the teams cannot play,” Reilly said in an email to the Sun Journal. “Coach Bryan Erickson of the Generals was asked to cancel the game, and he also did not want to jeopardize any players, teams or our rink until we can be clearer.”

Reilly is disappointed that the Maine Nordiques had to return to Lewiston without finishing their road trip as planned.

“This is a fluid situation, week by week, day by day as cases rise. I can tell you that all of the Mass. rink owners are working together with the state of Massachusetts to help clarify some rules and make sure everyone is on the same page,” Reilly said in his email. “The last thing I wanted to do was ask a group of players and coaches to jump back on their bus and head home, and neither does our state. We just need to stay the course and figure out the next steps in regard to clarifications.”

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