Steve Jensen has been in hockey for 55 years. He and his wife, Sandy Jensen, have been in business together running Heartland Hockey Camp in Deerwood, Minnesota for 36 years.
Steve scored 113 goals in the NHL, including 42 as a Minnesota North Star. He led the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team in scoring.
But what he and Sandy did this summer stands tallest:
Seven weeks of camp, 542 kids from 44 states, 44 staff members.
“I think this is our greatest accomplishment, for my wife and I,” Steve Jensen said. “We got through the seven weeks and not one case of COVID. That’s pretty impressive.”
Typically, Heartland hosts around 1,200 kids aged 5-17 each summer, for weekly camps that include on- and off-ice training, lodging, dining, lake recreation and more. With safety top of mind, Steve and Sandy, along with experienced medical staff, started meeting virtually in March during the onset of the pandemic to chart a course of action
Two experienced medical professionals and hockey people helped lead the planning, including a physician who’s worked at the Mayo Clinic for over 20 years and another employed at the local clinic in Crosby. Three nurses and an EMT were also on hand.
“We have excellent staffing,” Jensen said. “We have very knowledgeable and experienced people who knew hockey and worked in the medical field to guide us along the way.”
To reopen safely with proper social distancing, Heartland cut capacity to 50 percent. Only one family member was allowed to attend. Four new temporary locker rooms were built inside the rink, along with 10 new dorm rooms. New rules were enforced in the dining room. Classroom and video room sizes were increased. The snack bar and pro shop were closed to prevent the chance of mass gatherings.
“We also convinced our kids to quarantine two weeks before they came to the camp,” Jensen said. “We were way ahead of the curve. We were creating our own little bubble way back in April.”
Early in the planning stages, Heartland decided masks would be mandatory on its premises.
“People needed to realize how important it is to wear a mask in hockey,” Jensen said. “As we want to move forward, you want to convince people that you can play hockey safely if you follow the protocol.”
Kids were allowed to drop their masks on the ice, in the weight room, during mealtime and on the beach, but vigilant staff and disciplined kids emphasized social distancing in all situations.
“I think that made a huge difference for us,” Jensen said.
Hand sanitizing stations are scattered throughout the campus in strategic locations. New entry and exit protocols were established for the facilities.
Temperatures were taken and recorded for every camper and staff member twice daily, including early in the morning and late in the evening. If anybody had a temperature over 99.5 degrees, they were immediately taken to the clinic.
Six kids were taken to the clinic, four of which had strep throat and two had common colds.
Winning teams require buy-in. That’s exactly what Heartland got this summer from campers and staff.
“There were a lot of limitations, but you know what, the kids were really disciplined,” Jensen said. “Most kids that play hockey have to be disciplined if they want to participate in a good team sport like hockey. The kids were really good about wearing masks—I was really proud of them.
“By the end of the week, the reaction was a hundred percent positive. Everybody felt like they still had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the camp experience, made new friends, got outside and away from home, got some exercise and played hockey.”
Leadership is the key, Jensen says.
“We were very vigilant. I never dropped my mask once, even when I was outside. I think that’s the key for all of us moving forward,” Jensen said. “We’re a true example that it can be done. We can stay COVID free if we all show good leadership, stay vigilant and adhere to the proper rules and regulations that are provided to us by the medical field.”