Twenty-six days have passed since the Gophers women's hockey team played a game, but that doesn't mean players haven't experienced some competition, with spirited scrimmages during practice to help fill the void.
"It gets intense between our teams," senior defenseman Emily Brown said. "That's been really fun."
Finally, the second-ranked Gophers will get to test that competitive fire and intensity against an opponent. St. Cloud State visits Ridder Arena at 3 p.m. Thursday, beginning a stretch of three games in four days between the Gophers and Huskies. The WCHA rivals play a home-and-home series on Saturday in Minneapolis and Sunday in St. Cloud.
The WCHA added the Gophers-Huskies Thursday game to help fill the void created when Minnesota Duluth had to postpone a Monday-Tuesday series at Ridder Arena because of COVID-19 issues within its program. The Bulldogs were the third opponent forced to postpone a series against Minnesota because of coronavirus issues, following Wisconsin and Ohio State in December.
The postponements and false starts — the Wisconsin series was shelved on the day of the game — have given the season a bit of a "Groundhog Day" feel. Last season by Jan. 1, the Gophers had played 19 games. This season, they've had six.
"Nothing surprises us anymore," Gophers coach Brad Frost said. "Fortunately, it [coronavirus] hasn't hit us yet, but it probably will. As you look at almost every team in our league, the majority of them have had to cancel some series. … All the players in the WCHA are trying to do the right thing. Even by doing the right thing, some are still getting it."
Since St. Cloud State (2-4) already was in a six-day-per-week COVID-19 testing protocol so it could play a Big Ten team, the Thursday game against the Gophers (5-1 overall and WCHA) became possible once the schools agreed to the details. Frost is hopeful a similar arrangement can happen with Minnesota Duluth later this season.
Brown, a two-time All-WCHA second-team honoree, is focused on playing and putting the scheduling difficulties in the past. "We're all just eager to play and looking forward to that next game," she said.
The grind of adhering to COVID-19 prevention measures has been challenging, Frost acknowledged, and he's hopeful things will improve soon.
"One of things I continue to try to process is, when will things get back to — not normal, nothing's going to be normal ever again — to at least looking like they were before?" he said. "Where we're not having to test every day, where our players can hang out together outside the locker room, where they can get to know each other on a deeper level, where we can have a team activity, have a pregame meal that's not grab-and-go and head back to your dorm.
"… We just continue to do what's asked of us and try to do the right things," he added. "But, man, I hope that really soon we can get people back in the stands, start shaking peoples' hands, start hanging out a bit.''