The sights and sounds of hockey are warmly welcomed for many boys and girls around the state.
“The overall energy and excitement has been building,” said Tracy Cassano, head coach of the Minnetonka girls hockey team.
With the season beginning Monday – nearly two months later than the normal start date in November – the wait has built patience. But for coaches, it's also built creativity. Coaches have had to find way to keep the players engaged in a season that was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s by far the biggest challenge, not just as a coach, but as a teacher,” said Eden Prairie boys head coach Lee Smith. “Just in trying to keep kids engaged, keep them focused and keep them driven.”
Keeping them together will be another challenge ahead. Without non-conference games, team bonding activities, or even time in the locker room, will be limited, and creating a sense of team chemistry has taken a more intentional approach.
“This is my 18th year coaching high school hockey and never once in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be doing virtual practices,” said Cassano . “You know we're all in the same situation. And you do have to be a bit more creative.”
Then there is the schedule.
Instead of 25 games, they’ll play 18. No tournaments, or warm up games. Just 10 practices to get right into the heart of their schedule.
“In the past, we used December as a learning ground on all the kids, figure out where they were,” said Smith. “Then January and February kind of hone them in on roles. This year it will be a lot faster process."
“The expectation is going to be that they get going right away,” said Cassano. “As far as physically, that is something we stressed this offseason. Making sure the kids are in the best shape they can be.”
So that when games do start, wins and losses can be all these kids worry about.