I was on the phone with Union College men’s hockey co-captain Josh Kosack Tuesday morning for a story about his latest charitable venture.
The last thing the senior said was he needed some pillows to stuff into the Santa Claus outfit he’ll wear when he passes out gifts at Christmastime.
Less than an hour later, he was on another call, a Zoom meeting in which the men’s and women’s teams found out their seasons would be canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Done. Over.
It’s a brutal decision to have to make, but one by Union — and by RPI on Monday — that is impossible to find fault with, even if it creates a lasting negative impact on the programs.
If it seems like it’s been a long time since we’ve had some college hockey around here, it’s because it has been a long time … March 8, to be exact, when the Dutchmen lost in excruciating fashion at Yale in double-overtime of a deciding Game 3 of their first-round ECAC Hockey series.
And it’ll be a long time before we see college hockey again.
While RPI hadn’t even gotten to the point where team activities were allowed, Union at least gave the 2020-21 season a shot and was holding full-team practices, albeit with a no-contact restriction. They weren’t even running line combinations during drills.
It’ll be interesting to see if anyone transfers out to a school that is playing this season (most of them are, with schedule limitations and restrictions). The temptation certainly is there, although there could be pitfalls, not the least of which is the likelihood that there isn’t scholarship money available and that rosters are set.
Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin said that the transfer portal is already well-stocked with Ivy League players, after that conference canceled all winter sports last week.
The Union and RPI coaches will embark on new territory, when they attempt to figure out how to train and motivate their teams in practice without the prospect of actual games to work toward.
“I appreciate our administration waiting until the last second to see if we could figure out a path to make this work,” Union men’s coach Rick Bennett said. “At the end of the day, it was the right decision, based on the way the trend is.
“We had a pretty good run there for a few weeks. It felt pretty good, we had hope that it would happen, and it didn’t happen. We’re going to make the most of it. Who knows, maybe the coaches will put on some equipment, too.”
“I had the misfortune of being at Niagara University when the program folded there,” Union women’s coach Josh Sciba said. “I think back to that time, and it’s hard to think about yourself. We’re very lucky with what we get to do, and we’re going to continue to do it. With the girls, you think back to your college years, and their career just got altered. You think about them and how we can help them through the process.”
McLaughlin said COVID-19 cases have been low on campus, and Union wants to keep it that way.
So having teams traveling for games, and bringing other teams onto campus, was a risk not worth taking.
“We’re a residential liberal arts campus, a small school engaged in small classes,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t going to do anything to compromise our learning environment. We felt like participating in athletics could lead to increases in the virus and end up with situations like we’ve seen in Syracuse, Oneonta and Albany. We wanted to do everything we could to be able to stay on campus.”
Back in March, when everything was shut down, there was no assumption that this hockey season wouldn’t happen.
You just always thought people would get it together.
Well, hoped, if not fully believing.
So now the University of Vermont is postponing its hockey season until Dec. 18 because of a spike across our border, Section II pushed the start of any “low” and “moderate” risk high school winter sports back to mid-December, we lost a Suburban Council boys’ quarterfinal soccer game Tuesday because of a COVID-19 case and the New York State Public High School Athletic Association just announced that “high” risk winter sports — basketball, ice hockey, competitive cheerleading and wrestling — won’t start any earlier than Jan. 4.
“We saw an announcement on Thursday [from the Ivy League], we saw an announcement on Monday, we saw one on Tuesday … this isn’t going to be the last announcement,” McLaughlin said.