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On Friday night, the Michigan hockey team was celebrating its win over Notre Dame and looking ahead to its next game. On Saturday night, the team suddenly had no idea when its next game might be. 

On Jan. 23, the University of Michigan announced all athletic activities would be paused for two weeks following confirmed cases of the COVID-19 B.1.1.7 variant within the athletic department. The hockey team has had no positive cases since it began practicing in October. 

“I guess my initial reaction was a little bit of shock, a little bit of surprise, a little bit of disappointment, a little bit of anger.” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “But here we are and we’re looking to spin this into a positive.”

Pearson also understood and supported the administration’s decision and instead turned his focus to how he could help his team through the next two weeks. Following the news, the Wolverines held a couple of team meetings to discuss the next steps.

“The main point of the calls was just to reinforce the message from our athletic director in our department as to what this means and what our responsibilities are as student-athletes,” Pearson said. “And to make sure that they were all OK and (the coaches) are going to be a resource available to them.”

After the players got over the initial disappointment, a big concern they expressed was how they would be able to practice during the pause with the team required to quarantine and practices prohibited. They want to continue to train, but without being able to gather in large groups or use indoor ice rinks, that may be difficult. 

“They’ve got a regiment from our strength and conditioning coach,” Pearson said. “We’ll do a lot of zooms and stay in touch with them, give them different games to watch just to make sure that we’re keeping them mentally into the game; and then they have to do what they can physically to stay ready.”

Michigan had been playing some of its best hockey since it returned from winter break. The Wolverines won five of their past six games and are currently the seventh-ranked team in the country. 

Following the Notre Dame series, they were already scheduled to have a 12-day break before facing Penn State at home on Feb. 3 and 4. As of now, those are the only games to be postponed. Pearson also mentioned it would probably take the team 4-5 days to get back into game shape and they currently are scheduled to play Michigan State on Feb. 9 — just two days after the shutdown is supposed to end. 

“We’ve had past experience with this almost every year with the (Great Lakes Invitational) tournament,” Pearson said. “Normally we have a two and a half week break, we reconvene after Christmas, maybe have three and a half, four days of practice and then we play. And we’ve been able to manage that.

“Now the only difference here is are our kids going to have access to ice somewhere? And when you’re in a quarantine, that answer is no.”

The Wolverines are faced with a lot of uncertainty, but that was expected with a season being played amid an ongoing pandemic. When players returned to Ann Arbor, they didn’t know when their season would begin and what health and safety protocols they’d be under. The shutdown is just one more challenge they’ll have to overcome. 

“We’re all dealing with adversity in our lives,” Pearson said. “It’s how you handle that adversity. We’ve got to come up stronger on the other side whenever we’re allowed to come back.”

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