MISSOULA — In Missoula, the hockey community is beginning to see a return to normal.
Saturday morning at the Glacier Ice Rink, the Learn to Play program is in session indoors where little kids are learning hockey.
But outside, the older kids are playing their first home game of the season.
Brad Beniger's son plays in a travel league, and he told MTN News the COVID-19 restrictions have impacted his family.
“With COVID restrictions and the shutdowns and everything, they weren’t able to play most of their season and they've been able — fortunately they've been able to make it up but we've had to, we've had to leave town. They're actually playing today here in Missoula and this is the first home game they played all season," Beniger said.
COVID-19 restrictions prevented many club sports activities over the past year due to indoor capacity limits.
But Thursday, the Missoula County Board of Health voted to lift several restrictions.
Gatherings up to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors are now allowed - opening the doors for more people to play during league games.
Beniger said his family is relieved to finally play home games again and that traveling for hockey isn’t easy in Montana.
“This year has been difficult with not being able to play at home with all the restrictions. We’ve had to travel out of town, two weekends ago we had to go to Billings and it was 15 hours of driving for two hockey games,” Beniger said.
Laura Henning, Glacier Ice Rink executive director, told MTN News the cost of travel has impacted many hockey families from participating this season.
“They've had to travel to other communities so it's creating additional financial burdens on the parents to have to travel. And then they're also being exposed to communities that may not have the same COVID mitigation that we do, so it's kind of potentially putting the kids at a safety risk too,” Henning said.
Henning said the new county rules are improving community morale at the rink.
“It’s going to help us kind of get back to normal and operate and serve people and get more people into playing hockey,” Henning said.
Glacier Ice Rink is continuing to enforce mask usage for both participants and spectators. For more information, visit their website here.