Although Ontario University Athletics (OUA) has cancelled winter sports – the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks men’s hockey team is still on the ice.
Curtis Hodgins, head coach of the Ridgebacks, says he is “disappointed” about the icing of winter sports, but,continues to be optimistic about next season.
“The reality of it is, we certainly saw it coming – it’s not a shock,” Hodgins says. “It’s tough when you hear, in its finality, that you actually will not be playing any conference games.”
This year practices look different than they typically would during a regular season.
“For the first four weeks we were skating once a week and then two off-ice fitness sessions and now we are up to phase two of our return to training protocols,” Hodgins says. “That means we are on the ice twice a week and off-ice fitness once a week.”
Because of the pandemic, not all the players are back on campus.
“We have 21 of our 25 guys,” Hodgins says.
Hodgins says travel is the reason why some players aren’t on campus this year, “Russia, Newfoundland and Manitoba are their residence,” he says.
“Any player that’s here on campus is here voluntarily,” says Hodgins, “there is no mandate from myself or the athletic department that says, ‘you have to be on campus’.”
Hodgins says the “toughest part” about this season is knowing it will be the last year for some of his players.
“We have two set to graduate this year,” Hodgins says, noting Jack Patterson and Brennan Roy are both graduating in the winter semester.
“In U sports hockey we have a five-year athletic window where players can play,” Hodgins says. “Nobody is going to lose a year (of playing eligibility) this season.”
Patterson, a forward for the Ridgebacks, just entered his fifth year of university athletics.
With an extra year of eligibility, Patterson says he is unsure what his plans will look like after graduation.
“With this extra year of eligibility – since the season is cancelled, I don’t know if I’m going to pursue a master’s degree or something along that line,” Patterson says. “I’m just looking over my options right now.”
Hodgins says there is also a feeling of separation during practices because of the social distance guidelines they have to follow.
“Even when we’re practising, we are physical distancing – we are spread out across three dressing rooms,” Hodgins says.
This year it’s been especially tough for the team to bond.
“In a normal year the dressing room interactions with your teammates and the bonding and the bus travel, hotels and all that stuff you do where you become a team and become real good friends,” Hodgins says. “We have none of that.”
Hodgins says the distance can sometimes make it hard for the team to mesh. He says as their coach he can’t interact with players like he normally would.
“Usually, before practice, it’s a hangout session for the guys,” Patterson says. “Now we aren’t getting to do that…it’s not like the true camaraderie that we usually have when everyone is together.”
Although things look different this year, Hodgins and the team continue to be optimistic about next season.
“We are all hoping for better days,” Hodgins says. “For the players, this is their lives. They are at our school to play athletics and do their academics and, my life is coaching.”