Of the 14 NCAA teams sponsored at the University of Minnesota Duluth, only four have been able to begin their seasons in 2020-21 while the COVID-19 pandemic rages throughout the United States.
And on Wednesday, the Bulldogs men’s hockey team became the fourth — along with women’s hockey and men’s and women’s basketball — to at some point this season be forced to push the pause button on competition because of either a positive COVID-19 test result or potential exposure to the coronavirus within its own ranks.
This weekend’s UMD men’s hockey series against Miami in Oxford, Ohio, was postponed by the NCHC to Jan. 29-30 in accordance with the league’s COVID-19 protocols, “due to a combination of positive COVID-19 tests, contact tracing and subsequent quarantining of individuals.”
This marks the second scheduling change for men’s hockey after a positive test within the Colorado College program in November forced the shuffling of the NCHC Pod schedule at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska. The Bulldogs' schedule in the Pod was reduced from 10 games to nine as a second showdown with the Tigers was postponed to Thursday, Feb. 18 in Duluth.
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said his team is currently all in quarantine and has been unable to practice this week at Amsoil Arena. Strength and conditioning coach Jason Aldrich is currently conducting off-ice Zoom workouts — Wednesday was yoga — with the team.
“Hopefully next week we might be able to get back on the ice, but it might be outdoors and by household,” Sandelin said.
While most of the NCHC has already endured some kind of stoppage due to positive COVID-19 test results — including two other teams this month — this is a first for the Bulldogs. Asked who he reached out to for advice on how to handle the situation, Sandelin said he’s already been in touch with his son, Ryan, a sophomore forward at Minnesota State-Mankato.
“They’ve gone through it a couple times, so pretty good first-hand experience,” Scott Sandelin said of Ryan and the Mavericks. “Just getting a player's perspective, certainly— as he pointed out — it's tough. You get going and you want to keep going and all of a sudden there's a shutdown. It's something we've tried to prepare guys for all year.”
After having their last two series postponed — but not yet rescheduled — due to COVID-19, the UMD women’s hockey team is scheduled to play its first games in 41 days on Friday and Saturday when Ohio State visits Amsoil Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:07 p.m. Friday and 3:07 p.m. Saturday.
The Bulldogs’ Dec. 11-12 series at Wisconsin was called off after a COVID-19 outbreak within the Badgers program last month. UMD’s first series of 2021, a road trip to play Minnesota in Minneapolis Jan. 4-5, was then axed because UMD was “unable to meet the minimum number of players required to compete,” due to “injuries and illnesses.”
Bulldogs coach Maura Crowell said Wednesday her team will not have its full roster available this weekend, but they will have enough players available to meet the WCHA’s minimum of 15. Everyone is recovered from injuries, however, a number of players have been impacted by contact tracing, she said.
“The word ‘pivot’ that everybody has used so much in 2020 and now in 2021, is what it’s all about,” Crowell said. “It’s challenging because you don’t know when to expect things. You are informed and you have to pivot quickly and adjust your lines and different situations and go from there.
“We've had the next-man-up mentality all yearlong and now it's becoming a little more real for us. While it's unfortunate that we won't have everybody, other people get the opportunity, so that's a positive. The more people that get game experience, the better off we'll be down the line.”
UMD basketball among many NSIC teams dealing with COVID-19
Men’s hockey was not the only team at UMD to have games called off this week. On Monday, UMD announced the women’s basketball series this weekend at University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, was canceled “due to previous exposure and testing protocols.”
The NSIC, which began play this month for men’s and women’s basketball, is not making up any games that can’t be played this season.
UMD women’s basketball had its second game of the season canceled on Jan. 3 due to a positive test within the Winona State program, which the Bulldogs had just played and defeated the day before in Winona.
Coach Mandy Pearson’s team didn’t have its full roster when it played with just nine players last weekend against Minot State at Romano Gymnasium. The Beavers also had their games this week at St. Cloud State canceled “out of an abundance of caution based on COVID-19 protocols.”
“You’re looking around our league right now and the first two weekends of play, there were nine games canceled,” Pearson said. “There are just so many different situations with exposure. Our university is taking every precaution that we can to make sure everyone is staying safe. We want to be part of the solution and not the problem with the virus. When we are having exposures and things like that, we need to take precautions.”
Like the women’s basketball team, the Bulldogs men’s basketball program also had its Jan. 3 game against Winona State canceled due to positive tests within the Warriors program. While subsequent contact tracing determined the women could continue on with their season last week, the men were not able to due to potential exposure from their Jan. 2 game against the Warriors in Duluth. That resulted in games Jan. 8-9 at Minot State getting canceled.
The men’s basketball team finally held its first full team practice again on Wednesday and is currently on track to host Mary at 6 p.m. Friday and 4 p.m. Saturday at Romano Gym.
The team still has one more round of tests to get through before it's in the clear, but coach Justin Wieck said he and his players are excited to hopefully play their second and third games of the season this weekend.
Wednesday was supposed to be the team’s first full practice together since getting quarantined after the Jan. 2 game against Winona State.
“We got back on the court for a little while yesterday. Today's kind of our first kind of real practice,” Wieck said. “We were able to hopefully dust off some cobwebs yesterday a little bit. It was wasn't the prettiest practice I've ever been a part of, so hopefully we can have two practices here to kind of get us ready to go by Friday.
“But our guys are just excited to play. The testing part of it is just the anxiety of going through that process. It’s going to be that way all the way through the season. Hopefully we can get back out there Friday, and get these guys back back out on the court.”