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Hockey takes a back seat in wake of health scare

Dozens of children and adults were exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide at the Bussey Arena Friday. Keith Gosse/The Telegram
Dozens of minor hockey players and adults were exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide at the Bussey Arena Friday. Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Minor hockey players, adults treated for high levels of carbon monoxide following Zamboni malfunction

The parent of one of the players on the St. John’s Hitmen AAA bantam hockey team describes a health scare which occurred at Bussey Horwood Arena Friday as very serious, which should have prompted the postponement of the provincial championship for the time being.

The Janeway Children’s Hospital and Health Sciences Centre were filled Friday night with young hockey players with high levels of carbon monoxide following a Zamboni malfunction at the rink earlier that day.

In addition to the players, there were several adults, including parents, and on-ice officials who were also treated with 100 per cent oxygen for upwards of 90 minutes.

The situation called for the hospital to declare a Code Orange, a disaster code which ensures all resources are ready and waiting in the event of a mass incident.

The St. John’s Hitmen had 17 of their players go to the Janeway Emergency Friday.

“They started trickling in around 6 or 6:30 p.m.,” said Dr. Lisa Goodyear, who spoke to The Telegram Sunday not as an MD, but as a parent to one of the St. John’s players.

The tournament opened Friday morning with a game featuring Tri-Pen and Western at 9 a.m., followed by St. John’s and Tricom at 10:30 a.m.

The arena’s Zamboni had been experiencing mechanical problems, although it was used to flood the ice for the two games.

Carbon monoxide levels above five per cent are considered toxic. Eastern Health Friday evening put out a statement that said as a result of the CO exposure at the rink, it advised anyone who was in the arena that day to seek immediate medical attention if they experience symptoms of CO poisoning.

Physicians, nurses, residents and respiratory therapists went into “crisis mode” Friday, Goodyear said, treating patients.

Thirteen of the 17 players were toxic on presentation at hospital, and required treatment. After treatment, all of their levels were below the threshold for treatment.

“Most players were gone home by 11 or 11:30,” Goodyear said.

Half the team’s parents, she said, exhibited symptoms of CO exposure and were treated for elevated levels.

Goodyear said the players from the two Friday morning games had left the rink and were home — most of the St. John’s players were sleeping — when, through social media, parents started realizing something wasn’t right as all experienced the same symptoms.

“Parents went back to the rink and it was through that an investigation was started,” she said.

The St. John’s Regional Fire Department was called to Bussey Horwood Arena at 3 p.m. at which time elevated CO levels were detected.

“This was over two hours after kids had been in that rink (following their 10:30 a.m. game),” Goodyear said. “There is no way to know with the air circulation what those levels were hours earlier when the rink was filled.

“In hindsight, during our game, some of our kids were exhibiting symptoms of CO exposure, such as nausea and shortness of breath.

“One player was benched through concussion protocol even though there was no event on the ice.

“When they got home, many slept. We didn’t know. No alarms were triggered, and we were unaware of any exposure to carbon monoxide.

“This is horrendous … this is very serious.”

The tournament, for the remainder of the day, was postponed.

Gonzo Bennett, Hockey Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minor Council eastern area director and the HNL coordinator for the tournament, managed to secure icetime at the Paradise Double Ice Complex Saturday, but cautioned teams were not required to play if they had any concerns.

“Tri-Pen was the first to say they couldn’t play,” Bennett said Sunday night, and the first game Saturday was postponed.

A further update was issued noon Saturday, and three teams — Tri-Pen, Tricom and Western — all indicated they were good to play.

“The Hitmen were not comfortable playing, at which time that game was postponed. They were then notified that when they felt ready to play, they could return to the ice,” he said.

In the meantime, the Western team saw its roster dwindle to nine players, not because of Friday’s CO incident, but rather due to other injuries and suspensions, and it withdrew from the tournament Sunday.

“I have no idea when this tournament will resume,” Bennett said. “We will not pressure St. John’s to return until that team is 100 per cent certain it can play.”

However, the Atlantic championship opens April 3, and a Newfoundland and Labrador representative will have to be decided sooner rather than later.

But for the parents of the St. John’s players, hockey is taking a backseat to their long-term health.

“The mid- to long-term effects of CO exposure are neurological,” Goodyear said. “We are very concerned about this.

“This tournament should have been cancelled immediately, and a medical opinion sought on how to proceed.”

The St. John’s team plays and practises out of Bussey Horwood and Twin Rinks, two of the aging hockey arenas in the city.

There are seven arenas within the City of St. John's, eight if you count St. Bon's Forum. Excluding the Forum and Mile One Centre, there are six full-fledged hockey rinks — Bussey Horwood, two at Twin Rinks, Capital Hyundai Arena, Feildian Gardens and Goulds Arena.

Only Twin Rinks and Goulds are city-owned and run by a management board.

Outside Mile One, there hasn’t been a rink built in the city since the 1970s.

“The city,” Goodyear said, “has had zero investment in hockey/skating arenas, and this is unacceptable. The facilities that we do have in place are unacceptable.

“What happened this weekend demonstrates the complacency the city has regarding our children’s health.”

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