Brad Frost won’t soon forget the events of March 12, 2020. His Gophers women’s hockey team was two days away from an NCAA tournament quarterfinal matchup against Ohio State, with the chance to avenge a loss it suffered to the Buckeyes the previous weekend in the WCHA semifinals.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, sports domino after sports domino began to fall with the NCAA eventually canceling winter sports tournaments.
“I’ve been at the U for 20 years and head coach for the last 13, and that was probably one of the hardest team meetings that we’ve had,’’ Frost said. “We were 36 hours away from the NCAA quarterfinal game and hopefully getting to the Frozen Four. … It was really difficult for our seniors in particular.’’
Standout seniors such as Alex Woken, Patti Marshall and Sydney Scobee wouldn’t have a chance to win their first national title, while leading scorer Sarah Potomak lost out on a chance to bookend her Gophers career with NCAA championships.
“This year, I really do believe all eight [NCAA tournament] teams could have won that first game,’’ Frost said, “and who knows what would have happened after that.’’
More than three months later, Frost finds his routine changed because of COVID-19. He’s not on the road recruiting as he usually is during June and July because the NCAA has extended the recruiting dead period through Aug. 31. In addition, the cancellation of on-campus hockey camps has taken away another opportunity to evaluate players.
Instead, Frost is staying in touch with his team through video calls and making plans for a season that’s quickly approaching. Though the Gophers haven’t released their schedule, their exhibition games over the past five seasons have started as early as Sept. 21.
“Hockey for us is all three seasons -- fall, winter and a little bit of spring,’’ Frost said. “Whether we have a delayed start, or we start on time, we just don’t know. We’ve got a bunch of contingency plans in place.’’
Because most of his players are from the Twin Cities area, Frost doesn’t plan to bring them to campus right away. “We’re going to leave them home this summer,’’ he said. “They’re skating and training already, and there’s a lot of restrictions if they are to come to campus.’’
The Gophers will have seven freshmen and graduate transfer goalie Lauren Bench from Bemidji State as newcomers on their roster. Three of the freshmen – Abbey Murphy of Evergreen Park, Ill.; Minnetonka’s Maggie Nicholson; and Blake’s Audrey Wethington – helped lead Team USA to the Under-18 world championship in January.
“We’re really excited about our class. We think it’s one of the best, if not the best, in the country,’’ Frost said. “There’s going to be future Olympians coming out of our freshman class.’’
Another task Frost is addressing is the 2020-21 schedule. The fallout from coronavirus has prompted three series against Eastern teams to be eliminated this season, and he is trying to fill those spots. Additional exhibition games against the NWHL’s Whitecaps could be a solution.
“The hard part for us in the WCHA is there aren’t really any regional opponents, nonconference wise, where we can just go hop on a bus and play,’’ he said. “We’re going to have to get creative.’’
That approach should serve Frost well amid the constantly changing sports landscape.
“It’s just been a really different summer,’’ he said, “and hopefully it’ll never be like this again.’’