These are the most chaotic times faced by current generations of college coaches, as they attempt to have their teams navigate COVID-19's easy-to-acquire omicron variant, the possibility of midseason departures because of opportunity or unhappiness among athletes, and the old reliable for disruption, injuries.
"It is an understatement to say the last couple of years, mostly due to COVID, have been way more challenging for players, and also for us as coaches," said Mike Hastings, coach of Minnesota State Mankato's No. 1-rated men's hockey team.
"We used to go into a season with a Plan A, but knowing we would at some point need Plan B. Now, A, B and Plan C probably aren't going to be enough.
"You can't be sure there's a game, who will be available, until the puck is dropped."
The all-timer came in March 2020, when the Mavericks were 31-5-2 and ranked No. 2 nationally as the NCAA tournament approached, only to have the pandemic swoop in and cancel everything. And last year's trip to the Frozen Four had serious behind-the-scenes drama, too.
"We were getting ready to play St. Cloud State in the Frozen Four semis last April. The day of the game, we had positive tests for the virus. We were tested again and they turned out they were false positives.
"And we were part of an all-time great game with the Huskies."
St. Cloud State won 5-4 in overtime, for those keeping track at home.
No college sports entity challenges its athletes to miraculously avoid a COVID outbreak within their team more than Division I men's hockey.
Division I football (FBS and FCS) was allowed to start this past season on Aug. 28, and concluded on Monday with Georgia defeating Alabama in an SEC neighborhood tussle. That totaled 136 days to conclude the season.
Division I basketball for men's and women's teams started the regular season on Nov. 9. The women's Final Four concludes April 3 at Target Center, and men's the next night in the Superdome. That will be 146 or 147 days to crown a champion.
The men's hockey schedule started on Oct. 2 and the Frozen Four will conclude on April 9 in Boston. That will be 190 days to complete a season.
They start so ridiculously early that teams take breaks of two weeks or more starting in mid-December. This season, the Gophers did not have an actual game scheduled between Dec. 3-4 at Michigan to Jan. 7-8 at Michigan State.
The Gophers also would have been off this weekend if the season-opening series vs. Alaska had not been postponed. The Nanooks were headed from Maine to centrally located Fairbanks, and agreed to hang out in Minneapolis, waiting to see if the Gophers had enough players after running into COVID positives earlier in the week.
The dastardly omicron turned out to be only one reason causing Bob Motzko to switch from the Plan B instituted on opening weekend with a lost series, to Plan C with a bullet.
Apparently with no heads-up to the coach, the Carolina Hurricanes decided to sign his full-time goalie, Jack LaFontaine.
With some gentle lip biting at Tuesday's weekly media session, Motzko wished the best for LaFontaine. And he also found out Thursday the Gophers will be losing the most players to the Olympics — Ben Meyers, Brock Faber and Matthew Knies — of any college program.
Meantime, there was speculation Hastings would be losing his record-breaking goaltender, Dryden McKay, to the U.S. Olympic effort. USA Hockey went with three other goalies: Boston University's Drew Commesso and two lower-level pros.
Nathan Smith, a high-scoring forward, will represent the Mavericks, and with him in China (omicron willing), will be his coach, Hastings.
I talked with Hastings at midweek and admitted to being somewhat confused by the coach of the No. 1 team in the country signing up to be an Olympic assistant, along with St. Cloud State's Brett Larson.
The team will assemble in Los Angeles on Jan. 31, head to China and be there for three weeks. Hastings will miss two Mavericks series (with a bye week), and plans to be in Houghton for a Michigan Tech series starting Feb. 25.
"It was the opportunity to be part of the Olympics, and also the support of this university," Hastings said. "We have done this before. When I was the coach of the U.S. junior team at Vancouver in 2019, our associate head coach, Todd Knott, handled the business for us and did a great job.
"He will do that again, and our new assistant, Paulie Kirtland, also brings a lot. We'll be fine."
Hastings was rooting for McKay to be an Olympian. Now that it appears Dryden will remain the Mavericks' Mr. Zero next month, that statement can come with a higher level of assurance.