Delayed hockey season to finally commence

SEASON OPENER — Due to positive COVID-19 cases on the team they have had to postpone the first few games of the season. With this minor setback the Wildcat hockey team is ready to hit the rink for their season opener Dec. 16. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics

SEASON OPENER — Due to positive COVID-19 cases on the team they have had to postpone the first few games of the season. With this minor setback the Wildcat hockey team is ready to hit the rink for their season opener Dec. 16. Photo courtesy of NMU Athletics

Travis Nelson

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Wildcats had no COVID-19 issues, Head Coach Grant Potulny said. However in typical 2020 fashion, two days before NMU’s season opener against Lake Superior State on Nov. 25, positive tests on Northern’s end forced the game to be canceled. 

“It hasn’t been the easiest stretch of weeks, you’re ready to play a game on Wednesday and obviously with the positive COVID-19 tests, we kind of got delayed and put into quarantine,” senior forward Joseph Nardi said. “One thing I will say as a team and our coach even brought it up multiple times, is that there’s going to be winners and losers in this, and as a team we’re going to stick together and come out on the winning side.”

This goes along with the message from Potulny and his staff of taking everything day-by-day, and controlling only what they can control. The timing was disappointing right before the season’s first puck drop, but the Wildcats’ situation was no different than what other teams have faced, Potulny said. What NMU can control is trying to stay healthy, and being proactive in doing so, he added.

“There’s no doubt that the quarantine was tough on us, it’s probably hard for anybody. To compound it, I think you watch other teams being able to play and compete, those were a hard couple of weeks,” Potulny said. “We still did things over Zoom and still tried to be able to see the guys everyday. I think that gave us something to look forward to each day going through that, and I thought that was important.”

Staying together through Zoom meetings has kept the team mindset straight, and has kept them ready to play, Nardi said. The cancellation news was disheartening to hear, especially being so excited to finally face another team, he added.

Now after eight canceled games, the ‘Cats are out of quarantine and will host Ferris State University on Wednesday, Dec. 16 at the Berry Events Center in a non-conference match-up. The mentality from the coaching staff of preparing to win a hockey game sounds normal during these times. Once Northern was able to get back in action on the ice for practice, the team didn’t take any of it for granted.

“I think the greatest example is the first day we were back to practice; just the energy and the enthusiasm to get back on the rink,” Potulny said. “You almost don’t know what you got until it’s gone, and not having that opportunity I think has made people appreciate it more now that we can play.”

This will be the team’s first time to test itself facing off against the Bulldogs (0-2), who were swept last weekend by Bowling Green to begin its season. NMU’s players have put in work all summer and have come back to put in work to prepare for a game, Potulny said. Playing themselves in practice isn’t a test, he added, but is looking forward to the test with FSU coming to Marquettte.

Not only are the coaches ready to roll, but the team is super excited, Nardi said. Nothing quite resembles playing against another team, and it’s something the ‘Cats are excited for after progressing throughout the weeks, he said.

“I’m looking forward to just being able to compete again; it’s been awhile since we’ve played another team. Just having the opportunity to get on the ice and play another opponent will be super exciting just to see where our team stacks up against others,” Nardi said. “We’re just really grateful that we get to step on the ice everyday because we’ve had so many setbacks and adversity to start the season. I think where our group is right now is a great spot, and I think that we can really do some damage going forward here.”

The Wildcats and Bulldogs square off at the Berry Events Center with puck drop at 6 p.m.