At a glance, the U14 ringette match-up last weekend which pitted the Walden Ring Devils against the Sudbury Swift did not appear all that different from any similar game that might have been played a year ago, this time.
Ringette, as a sport, has been fortunate. The very nature of the game has allowed the local associations to feature encounters with five skaters and a goalie, the same as in pre-pandemic times.
In fact, adjustments to the rules might not even be noticeable to anyone except those who played or coached the game, at one time.
"The only thing that you really have to watch out for is breaking into the triangle," stated 11 year-old Yasmine Ahmed, who netted no less than four goals in this contest for Sudbury.
The triangle, as she refers to it, is that area directly in front of the netminder, one that is typically guarded by the defensive center, up near the hash marks, as well as two defencemen, slightly off to the sides.
"Normally, players would break into that area and get a clear shot on the goalie," Ahmed continued. "But that would cause a lot of body contact, and that is not good with COVID."
"You have to watch how close you are to people," added 13 year-old Willow Budgell, a veteran of the winning crew from Walden for a few years now. "Contact can still happen, but most people try and be careful and more aware of it."
"There are still ways around it, where you can be competitive without necessarily having to battle it out."
Yet for as much as this might look like a game like any other, there is little doubt that the players are focusing on their skill development, just a little bit more than usual.
For Ahmed, that means a little extra work on the offensive part of her game. "I think my favourite goal was my wrist shot one, because I am practicing that now," she said.
"It's hard to do wrist shots, so I was proud when I got that one in. It's the weight transfer that is tricky, with all of the power on the back leg, and then shifting it on to the front leg as you shoot."
"And then you have to flip your wrists so that the ring goes upwards."
Of course, when you score four goals in a game, you quickly learn that variety is key, when it comes to keeping your opponent guessing.
"That last goal was a deke," said Ahmed. "Dekes are something that goalies fall for the most. If you bring the ring in here, they will fall down and then you shift to the side and it goes in. The goalies don't like that."
Budgell, for her part, was equally as proud of the evolution in the way that she and her Walden teammates approached this game, pulling away in the latter stages for the win.
"I thought we started to focus more on our passing and played more as a team," she said. "It can't just be one person, everyone has to work together."
As one of those local sports that requires its competitive athletes to also play at the house-league level, simply to ensure sufficient numbers across the board, ringette administrators must always keep inclusivity top of mind, as some of the very best players in the province might line up, side by side, with someone picking up the sport for the very first time.
"We often use those provincial level girls as role models for the other girls on the team," noted Walden head coach Krista Kowaluk. "They always come in with a great attitude, looking to help everybody out."
"They don't hog the ring, and ringette is good, as a sport, because you have to pass over the bluelines, so you can't go end to end. They help develop the less experienced girls."
And much like the players, the folks behind the bench are coming to grips with building a sport that they love at a most challenging time. "It's different coaching with the masks - I may have to yell a little bit louder," admitted Kowaluk.
"And yes, we are trying to encourage the girls not to dig as much as usual for the ring, to try and keep your space. But we're very fortunate with ringette to be able to play the full five on five."
For the record, the final score in Garson was Walden 9 Sudbury 5 - just as it easily might have looked, one year ago.