A hockey player without ice is like a fish without water — or, at least, a frog without water.
It’s not impossible for players to stay in shape without a rink, but it does make it significantly more difficult. That was the reality most of the Michigan hockey team faced in March when COVID-19 not only canceled the rest of the season but shut down most rinks and gyms across the country.
In a normal summer, senior forward Jack Becker would have been on the ice four to five days a week, but staying in shape remained a priority even even as strict quarantine protocols were enforced across the country.
The team had an optional workout plan, but because most players had left campus, everyone had access to varying amounts of equipment. For that reason, strength coach Joe Maher created a series of different plans depending on the level of equipment players had at their disposal.
“I guess (the hardest part was) just having the will and the motivation to do it every day,” senior forward Mike Pastujov said. “I mean there's no coaches or trainers — you're just on your own. And there's a lot of hours in the day to fill doing other stuff, so to find a time to do it — I’d say that was the hardest.”
Lots of players worked out with friends or family members. Junior goaltender Strauss Mann worked out with his cousin every day. Becker worked out with his younger brother.
As an additional motivator, the team set up small five-person groups over Zoom to discuss their workout progress.
Sophomore forward Eric Ciccolini, who was quarantining in Toronto, was in a unique situation. Canada had far fewer cases of COVID-19 than the United States and reopened much quicker. Ciccolini could go to the gym five days a week and was able to get on the ice two to three times a week.
For Mann, the rink closures weren’t an issue. He usually tries to take a month or two off the ice to let himself recover anyway. He tries to slowly build up his number of days on the ice as the season approaches — a task that’s become much more difficult with unorthodox summer training and an unclear start date for competition.
Once Mann and Becker got back to Ann Arbor in June, they tried to get creative with their workouts.
“Jack and I worked out in the backyard together for a week or two and used what we could,” Mann said. “We had a couple of dumbbells and were using the beds of our trucks to jump on to for plyo(metrics).”
When the whole team got back to campus a few weeks later, they started with small groups five days a week. The groups rotated weekly with the goal of integrating freshmen into the team.
In early August, the team was able to get back to the rink in small groups five days a week and three days a week weightlifting.
Despite the unusual summer, the Wolverines are back to some semblance of normalcy — now skating together at Yost Ice Arena six days a week. As it stands, all they’re waiting on is to hear when they can play.
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