Column: Mass. Shutdown is a Blanket Solution to an Isolated Problem

Mike McMahon is an editor at Neutral Zone. You can email him at

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is providing a widespread, blanket solution to what simply hasn’t been a widespread, blanket problem.

On Thursday night, Baker announced that hockey in the state has been closed until Nov. 7. College and pro teams are able to continue activities, but anything other than that has been shut down.

This was due to what the state said was “clusters” popping up related to youth hockey. They detailed 108 cases in the state that have been traced back to hockey activities.

Oh, by the way, last year there were 48,064 players registered in Massachusetts.

Before we go any further, COVID-19 is very real, it’s very contagious and it’s very dangerous. I’ll trust the doctors and scientists who say it’s way more dangerous than the flu and exponentially more contagious. That’s why we’re all wearing masks (hopefully) to help stop the spread of COVID and we don’t wear masks every winter to stop the spread of the flu.

With proper protocols and precautions, we can resume some sense of normal activity, and all around the country we’ve done that. We’ve been going to restaurants, going shopping, and our kids have been enjoying youth sports and going to school.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t in danger. If we all ignored safety protocols, we would end back where we were in March, and no one wants that. You’re assuming some risk of transmission every time you leave your house.

So yes, it’s possible that COVID can be spread at a hockey game, or at a hockey practice. The state has data that, to some small extent, there have been transmissions traced back to youth hockey. But a widespread closure of the sport just isn’t the right solution.

I’m all for holding programs and rinks accountable. If there are outbreaks at a certain rink, or a certain organization has COVID ripping through their teams, SHUT THOSE TEAMS DOWN. Hold those rink owners, programs and parents accountable. Punish those who deserve to be punished for not following the rules.

If there’s a rink with widespread transmission, or an organization that has multiple infections on multiple teams, clearly those organizations and rinks aren’t following the protocols. Because the teams that are following the rules haven’t had any problems.

It’s also key to remember that most of the transmission has occurred within organizations. Multiple teams in the same organization have experienced problems. There doesn’t appear to be evidence that suggests there has been rampant transmission to opponents.

I think there’s a middle ground here that Baker and state officials completely sped past en route to a total closure.

Why not just stop games for two weeks? One of the concerns is the amount of travel teams do every weekend for games, right? Well, if you stop games for two weeks, but allow teams to continue to practice, the travel component disappears. I realize that some programs utilize multiple rinks, so mandate that for the next two weeks, teams can only practice (with their own teams) and all of those practices have to be in the same rink.


If there continues to be widespread transmission in rinks across the state over this two-week span, it becomes really easy to target which rinks and programs aren’t following the rules.

“While many of the players, families and facilities throughout the state have been following the guidance as expected, there have been situations and areas where the Commonwealth feels compliance with the guidance has not been followed,” Mass. Hockey said last night in a statement. “Unfortunately, unless we are able to correct these issues, we would anticipate any further shutdown could be significantly longer than the current two weeks. This is related to both the guidance issued as well as cooperation with the contact tracing process.”

“Until the rinks are allowed to reopen, we hope that everyone takes a moment to think about why we play this great game and how our actions can impact others. For better or worse the hockey community is viewed as one collective group and, unfortunately, the actions of a few can impact the season for the 50,000 Massachusetts players and coaches.”

If a restaurant in Saugus, Mass. has an outbreak, we aren’t shutting down every restaurant in the state. If 20 restaurants, in 20 different towns, have outbreaks I doubt that Baker would shut down every restaurant in the state. He’d identify the places that aren’t following the rules, and those restaurants would (rightfully) be closed.

But hockey is viewed differently, for some reason. Instead of targeting the programs and individuals who are not following protocols, the entire sport, and the almost 50,000 kids who play it, are now home for at least two weeks. But let’s face it, this could drag out longer.

If the Governor believes hockey is a problem, then stopping games but allowing practices is a practical solution. It actually allows him to then track spread and see which rinks and organizations have been the problem.

Isolating teams to rinks in their own communities is the same as isolating kids in school. Most towns are utilizing hybrid schedules, with students around each other for 12 hours per week (2 days).

There will be some programs that I’m sure will defy even these orders. I received a copy of an email this morning with one group looking to move their entire youth program to New Jersey for the next two weeks, because “kids have the option for virtual learning.”

Want to know what that’s going to do? It’s going to EXTEND the shutdown here in Mass. The state’s website says that the state wants visitors and returning residents to self-isolate for 14 days upon arriving back in the state. That includes people arriving from “low-risk” states. If you’re coming from a low-risk state, like New Jersey, you don’t have to fill out a travel form but they still want self-isolation.

Hopefully, someone steps up and shuts that idea down, because it’s only going to exacerbate the problem.

(Edit: It looks like someone DID step up. Good on the EHF)

Baker will never re-open hockey if he’s made aware that multiple families moved their mites, squirts and peewees to New Jersey to play hockey for two weeks.

The folks who won’t be stopped by this shutdown are the same folks who, I’m sure, weren’t following the protocols to begin with.

So then who is getting hurt? The teams, rinks and kids who were playing safely?

Again, it’s a blanket solution to something that simply wasn’t a blanket problem.

As a Mass. resident, Baker’s administration has otherwise handled the pandemic very well in this state. But this was a decision made without understanding the dynamics at play.

Target the offenders. Hold those who aren’t following the guidelines accountable. The hockey community across the entire state should not be viewed as a collective group. 

Mike McMahon is an editor at Neutral Zone. You can email him at