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By Michael Boriero - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A frosty afternoon chill did little to stop Eastern Townships’ residents from stepping on the local ice rink on Friday afternoon.

Hockey players swarmed Sherbrooke’s Alfred-Élie-Dufresne Park in eager anticipation for their turn on the ice. But like the people that came before them, they needed to huddle around the nearby chalet, waiting for the hour session to finish.

One resident, 40-year-old Gregory Bach, was on the ice for 30 minutes when he spoke to The Record. He got on the ice around 2:15 p.m. with his three children. The outdoor rink provides an escape, he explained, a reprieve from COVID-19 news.

“It’s really a place that gives [you] a chance to relax, exchange ideas,” said Bach. “We can’t forget we’re in a pandemic, but when I play hockey I think of other things.”

Bach and his family stayed in a small bubble, only passing the puck among themselves. Everyone keeps to their groups, he said, no one is mixing together. Masks were sparse, however, but it didn’t bother Bach. They’re outside, he said, it’s not mandatory.

According to the city of Sherbrooke website, skating rinks in the area have a 25-person maximum capacity. Domain Howard can have a maximum of 50 people on the ice. When maximum capacity is reached, an hourly change comes into effect.

A handful of city workers overlooked the on-ice activities Friday, keeping an eye on any rule-breakers. While face masks aren’t mandatory, other than inside chalets, the city does recommend wearing one on the ice.

After wrapping up an hour session, Antoine Genesse, a 21-year-old Université de Sherbrooke student, said he felt completely safe on the ice. He came to the rink alone. He had just finished his semester and he was looking for something to do.

“It’s fun to just get some fresh air and at the moment not a lot of things are open, no cinemas, so this gives you a chance to play hockey with others,” said Genesse.

Everyone on the ice is respectful of the two-metre distance rule, he added, it’s mostly just people doing tricks, taking shots and having fun. Meanwhile, in Magog, the famous ice path also just recently opened up.

The path was filled with ice skaters. There are less sticks, however, and more families. Strollers glide along the route with parents in tow, while more seasoned skaters carve the ice. The rules are similar to outdoor rinks: two-metre distance and a limit of eight people per group.

Joey Therrian, a 43-year-old father from the area, hit the ice with his children. He expects to be out there another dozen times this winter, as many places remain closed due to the pandemic. He hopes the path stays open because it gives people a necessary mental break.

“I think it’s very important because if you take that away I mean the only thing that’s left is walking around like on the streets or in the mountain, but besides that this is like a second choice that’s pretty interesting with the kids,” said Therrien.

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