In this March 2020 file photo, Jonah Roy (left) of Presque Isle pursues the puck as teammate Quinn DeMerchant (right) and Old Town-Orono's Nate Young (22) look on during the Class B North hockey title game at Alfond Arena in Orono. Maine hockey teams are using fewer players amid altered game formats this season. Credit: Nina Mahaleris / BDN

High school hockey in Maine has a different look this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state-mandated 50-person limit for indoor events has forced coaches to dress fewer players and the games themselves have a new structure.

Instead of three 15-minute periods, teams are playing two 23-minute halves to reduce the amount of time the teams are in a rink. Teams shoot on the same goal each half instead of changing ends after each period.

There also is no overtime, eliminating the former eight-minute, sudden-death extra period. This rule, too, means teams spend less time in the rink.

The number of team personnel allowed varies.

Joe Nelson, the rink manager at Sawyer Arena in Bangor, allows each team to have 18 people on the benches. That includes players and coaches.

At the Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer, Brewer High athletic director Dave Utterback said each team is allowed 20 players, coaches and staff.

Utterback said the determination of who is on the bench is left to each team.

With each team having 20 members, that leaves room in the facility for 10 other people. Among them are two referees, the clock operator, an official scorer who also serves as the penalty box door attendant, an athletic trainer, someone to operate the livestreaming camera and two rink employees.

“One of our assistant coaches handles the livestreaming of the games,” Brewer High hockey coach Lance Ingerson said.

Ingerson dresses nine forwards, six defensemen and two goalies.

During a normal year, teams with a full roster can dress 20 players. There usually would be 12 forwards, six defensemen and two goalies.

With the 18-person limit at Sawyer, Bangor coach Quinn Paradis has dressed 15 players — eight forwards, five defensemen and two goalies. The other three spots are for coaches.

“The toughest part is some kids aren’t able to dress for the game,” said Paradis, whose Rams this week skated to a 1-1 tie with Old Town-Orono and beat Hampden Academy 4-0.

He has three or four lineup spots that are interchangeable among his players going into each game.

Old Town-Orono coach Chris Thurlow has observed that his players are “gassed” at the end of each half, which amounts to extra eight minutes of playing time without a break and because players must wear face coverings at all times.

All three coaches said they keep constant tabs on their players and their conditioning, since high school hockey teams had only one week of practice before playing games.

“The long halves and the masks impact their oxygen intake,” Thurlow said.

Teams usually come ready to play and leave right after the game.

The coaches have nonetheless been pleasantly surprised at the high caliber of play despite the limited practice time.

“The flow of the games has been pretty good,” Thurlow said.

They said the ice does get choppy at the end of each half, but it hasn’t been a major issue.

The most important thing is that the players are getting an opportunity to compete. It’s something they weren’t guaranteed last fall and certainly isn’t etched in stone going forward because of the spike in coronavirus cases.

“The kids are just happy to be playing,” Paradis said. “This gives them some semblance of normalcy. And they are very resilient.”

The coaches said their players have been compliant with the safety protocols. They are learning to balance expectations with the realization of the times.

There won’t be a regional tournament or state championship games, but there might be some kind of regional playoffs.

“You can throw the records out this year. We want to have fun. But everybody is still competitive and wants to win,” Thurlow said. “It’s just a different year. I have to remind myself not to be too hard on them.”