Pandemic-related restrictions on indoor sports attendance were relaxed slightly last week, but does that mean there will be more fans in the stands at South Suburban Conference athletic events?

The answer is a definitive “it depends.”

Indoor and outdoor attendance maximums were raised to 250 spectators or 25 percent of venue capacity (whichever is less) under a revised executive order announced by Gov. Tim Walz on Friday. The previous maximum was 150 spectators or 25 percent of capacity.

But before you try to put your name on the pass list for an upcoming hockey game, understand that the attendance maximum is only one of the rules event managers must take into account.

A big factor is the size of the venue. Even though the attendance maximum increased, rules governing physical distancing remained the same. The 250-spectator maximum applies only if fans can remain at least 12 feet from the participants. If not, then participants must be counted toward the 250 maximum. Spectators from different households still are supposed to remain 6 feet apart.

At Eastview High School, assistant principal for curriculum and athletics Matt Percival predicted there would be more room for fans at events in the school gym, but there might not be room for 100 more.

Bleachers on one side of the Eastview court are available for spectators. On the opposite side the bleachers remain pushed back against the wall to accommodate the new arrangement for team benches. Instead of players and coaches sitting side by side as is customary, chairs are scattered because team personnel on the bench must keep 6 feet of distancing. As long as that rule is in place Eastview High will not be able to use all of its bleacher space.

Distancing requirements also come into play for events such as gymnastics, which often are too small to allow for any spectators because there’s no way to keep spectators at least 12 feet from the athletes. Swimming meets in the South Suburban Conference are taking place without spectators for the same reason.

Unless the COVID-19 guidance changes again before the winter sports postseason in March, many of these rules will remain in place during section competition, most of which will take place at high schools instead of larger arenas.

For now, walk-up ticket sales for SSC events still aren’t allowed. Schools still must require advance registration or ticketing. The Minnesota State High School League recommendation is a maximum of two spectators per participant. Bands are not allowed at indoor events. Cheer teams can attend if the cheer pods are at least 12 feet from fans and participants.

Gymnastics rankings

Several South Suburban Conference teams appeared in the most recent state Class AA gymnastics rankings.

Eagan is 15th with an average score of 137.50. Lakeville South is 16th with a 136.825 average and two-time defending Class AA champion Lakeville North is 18th at 136.60. Sartell-St. Stephen, which was second to North at the 2020 state meet, leads the Class AA ranking with a 143.063 average. With the winter sports season delayed because of COVID-19, team scores are lower than usual; last year Lakeville North’s winning score at state was 149.975.

Eagan is the only Section 3AA team in the Class AA top 25. Lakeville South and Lakeville North are the top two teams from Section 2AA. Farmington and Rosemount, both unranked, compete in Section 1AA, where the top teams are Northfield (19th) and Owatonna (20th).

Eagan junior Hannah Maccarone is aiming for another appearance in the state meet after finishing 13th in the Class AA all-around last year. This season Maccarone has scored 37.1 in the all-around, the second-highest reported score in the metro area. She also has the metro’s top vault score of 9.75.

Section gymnastics meets are tentative scheduled for March 18-20, with the state meet March 26-27 at Champlin Park High School.

Oettinger stars for Dallas

Seven years after playing in a state high school hockey tournament championship game for Lakeville North, Jake Oettinger is proving to be a solid goaltender in the NHL.

He has appeared in six games for the Dallas Stars, making five starts. As of Tuesday, the Stars were 5-3-4 overall. Oettinger has a 2.31 goals-against average and .910 save percentage. Dallas earned points in each of the five games he started, with two victories along with three losses in overtime or shootouts.

Oettinger played nine games for Lakeville North in the 2013-14 season, including the Class AA final against Edina at Xcel Energy Center. He spent the next two years with the U.S. Under-17 and Under-18 national teams, followed by three seasons with Boston University. He signed in spring 2019 with Dallas, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2017.

He was the Stars’ backup goalie during their run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals, appearing in relief in two games. Oettinger became the first goalie in the NHL expansion era – which started in 1967-68 when the league went from six teams to 12 – to make his debut in a playoff semifinal game.

This year he appeared ticketed for the Stars’ top minor-league affiliate, but an injury to starting goalie Ben Bishop opened a place on the NHL roster, and Oettinger has made the most of it.

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