Men’s hockey is set to make a return. Photo courtesy of Bill Prout.
After nearly 10 months of waiting, the NCHC will kick off their season in Omaha, Neb. on Dec. 1 with three weeks of hockey in a pod.
The pod that the NCHC will attempt to create has been compared to the “bubble” that was designed to allow the NBA to finish out their season in the wake of cancellations due to COVID-19.
The strategy is being called a pod because the league is not able to recreate the same level of separation as would be seen in a bubble.
“We’re calling it a pod because it’s not a true bubble,” Heather Weems, Director of Athletics at SCSU, said. “In that we can’t provide the same level of security and seclusion. So it’s a pod.”
The pod, created around the Baxter Arena and four surrounding hotels, will allow the teams to compete in a controlled environment.
Getting into that controlled environment will require teams to follow the Sports Science Institute guidelines for the NCAA. All eight teams will need to have three negative tests, over nine consecutive days, to be allowed to travel to the pod. From there they will travel to Omaha where whey will be tested again. With a negative test after arrival, they will be permitted to play in the pod.
In the pod, there will be three different levels of access and testing requirements. Tier one will consist of players, coaches, trainers and equipment managers, and anyone who is interacting with the team on a daily basis. Those in tier one will be required to test daily and anyone that leaves will need to complete the procedure to re-enter.
Tier two will be individuals that are in operations or in a supportive role to include rink maintenance, rink/locker room cleaning personnel, security, and general staff. Tier three will consist of all others that are admitted into the pod.
Although this plan has been in the works for months, the availability of testing machines and supplies has been the one thing that has slowed down the plans. As more testing centers have opened around the state, the availability of supplies has finally opened up the opportunity to make the pod possible.
“[Testing] is a significant commitment by institutions and by the athletic training staff, from a logistics and a financial perspective to get all of this going,” said Weems. “But, it is the requirement to be able to compete this year.”
Baxter Arena was picked not only for the proximity of the hotels to the arena, but also for its testing location, the University of Nebraska Medical Center located less than three miles away from the arena, will reduce the cost associated with each test, mentioned Weems.
Those tests, along with smart decisions will enable sports to take place. The reality of not practicing, training, or playing came earlier in the year as athletics at SCSU had to close down for quarantine and cleaning in September.
“When the [athletes] understood that, as uptakes happen, [athletics is] going to have to close down opportunities for practice,” said Weems. “They learned really quickly and determined that being on the field, the court, the ice, or in the swimming pool was important enough to them that they would curb their behaviors and their decision making … because ultimately, the only way we can play games is if everybody’s taking care of [their] health and we don’t have have positive tests.”
With around 35 people at tier one being tested per team and test prices ranging anywhere $23 to $39 each, staying in the bubble will cost an estimated $16,100 to $27,300, for testing over a 20 day period. This does not include any other cost and all of the teams participating will split all costs associated with the pod.
To further mitigate the risks to the whole team, athletes are now training in small groups. This makes it easier to contact trace if anyone tests positive for COVID-19, Brett Larson, the Head Coach of the men’s hockey team, remains positive in-light-of this change to how he goes about coaching and setting up his line of players.
“In normal times, you wouldn’t like that,” said Larson. “But right now it feels better than nothing. We also know every other team in the country is dealing with the same thing. So there’s no advantage really, for any team over another.”
We will find out how well those teams were able to deal with the changes this season on Dec. 1 when SCSU takes on Western Michigan for their first game in the pod. They will finish up their pod series on Dec. 20 when they play Denver.
Normal travel and playing on home ice, for SCSU, is scheduled to start on Jan, 1, 2021, when they host Minnesota Duluth.