From the time his players arrived on campus, Brad Frost has urged them to remain adaptable, ready to roll with whatever twists and turns the pandemic might deliver. The Gophers women’s hockey coach repeated that advice frequently over the past 48 hours, as COVID-19 suddenly rewrote his team’s schedule.
About 9:30 a.m. Friday, the WCHA announced the postponement of this weekend’s series between the No. 3-ranked Gophers and No. 1 Wisconsin because of positive COVID-19 tests in the Badgers program. That news came less than 24 hours after the postponement of the Gophers’ series next weekend at Ohio State. By 2 p.m. Friday, the Gophers had plugged one of those holes, adding two games against Minnesota State Mankato to replace the Ohio State set.
Frost wasn’t completely shocked by Friday’s postponement of the Border Battle. He heard Thursday morning the Badgers had a positive test, but he held out hope the series at Ridder Arena could go on as scheduled. When it didn’t, he reminded himself of his own advice.
“The message to our team has been to be as flexible and interchangeable as possible, to adapt and adjust and figure it out,’’ Frost said. “We’ve been treating every day as a gift.
“We’re certainly disappointed we weren’t able to play this weekend, but we understand the decision. Any time we get to put the jersey on to play in a game this year, it’s a big deal. We’re sad not to be able to do that [this weekend], but we’re really excited about the opportunity to get back at it next weekend against Minnesota State.’’
This week’s postponements were the first this season to affect the Gophers, who are 3-1. But the WCHA has seen more than a quarter of its schedule scrambled by the pandemic.
The league has postponed eight of the 28 games originally scheduled for the first half of its season, including four of six set for this weekend. Along with the Gophers-Wisconsin series, Minnesota State Mankato’s series at Bemidji State was shelved because of positive tests in the Beavers’ program.
The Beavers’ season-opening series at St. Cloud State was postponed when St. Cloud State paused program activities following a number of positive COVID-19 tests. Bemidji State has yet to play this season, while the Badgers have played only two games, splitting with Ohio State last weekend.
The first portion of the WCHA schedule began Nov. 20 and will run through Dec. 19. The second half has not been announced, but Frost said Friday he expects games to resume the weekend of Jan. 1. The postponements would have idled the Gophers for about a month, but adding games against the Mavericks next Thursday in Mankato and Friday at Ridder Arena will reduce the break to two weeks.
“[Senior associate athletic director] Tom McGinnis has done a great job trying to find solutions for us,’’ Frost said. “Minnesota State was off next weekend, and they were able to get that on the books.’’
No makeup dates have been set for the Gophers’ postponed series. They lead the WCHA standings with nine points after splitting with Ohio State Nov. 21-22, followed by a sweep at Minnesota Duluth last weekend.
Frost said he and other WCHA coaches hope to play at least one series against every league rival over the course of the season, though that isn’t guaranteed. During the first part of the schedule, teams mostly played opponents with similar testing protocols. Frost said that might mean the Gophers will face Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Wisconsin more often.
The pandemic has forced other adjustments as well. Players are rooming on the road with the same people they live with on campus. All their meals come in boxes and are eaten alone. There have been no team gatherings, and players are reminded to stay 6 feet apart during practice.
It’s been a challenge, Frost said, but all the Gophers can do is try their best to stay safe.
“We knew the time would eventually come where games and series would be postponed or canceled,’’ Frost said. “The threshold is pretty tough. If you get three or four cases, you’re probably not traveling and shutting down for a bit.
“I think our players are doing a good job. But that doesn’t guarantee that somebody in our group isn’t going to get COVID.’’