The Michigan hockey players know the rulebook inside and out. In fact, they wrote it.
As the school year drew closer, fall sports were put on hold and it became clear that campus would be an entirely new landscape. The Wolverines knew they had to develop a set of rules to navigate the COVID-19 risks and preserve their chance of playing in the winter.
But the rules weren’t passed down from the university, the athletic department or even a coach. They were developed over the summer during a group conversation between all players on the team. Together, they talked about their expectations for each other and how to best minimize risk of infection.
The captains, senior forward Jack Becker and junior goaltender Strauss Mann, couldn’t go into too much detail on the guidelines because the conversation was confidential. Still, the main point was clear.
“(We’re) just trying to do everything we can to stay safe off the ice and stay kind of within a bubble,” Mann said. “Obviously it’s not a bubble like the NHL is doing right now, but trying to make it as close to that as we can just to give ourselves the best chance to test negative.”
“And to play,” added Becker.
On Sept. 10, the Hockey Commissioners Association (HCA) announced that the season would be delayed for all Division I leagues. The decision, while disappointing, wasn’t a huge shock to either of the players.
In a situation where they have very little control, the Wolverines know there’s only one way to maximize their chances of playing: stay the course. Following its self-imposed rules is the team’s best chance of betting back on the ice.
Part of that means staying within the team’s “bubble.” As Mann acknowledged, it isn’t an official seclusion like many professional leagues have been doing, but the players are trying their best to limit contact with others, something made easier by the fact that many live with other members of the team.
On the flip side, if one of the players contracts the virus, living together would make it much more difficult to prevent the spread. The CDC recommends that roommates of COVID-19 patients quarantine for 14 days. In theory, that would mean that if Mann or Becker tested positive, their whole house — both captains and both alternate captains — would be out of commission for two weeks.
One of the most important things for the team is that they continue to reassess their procedures.
“Things are changing every day and no one’s done this before,” Mann said. “It’s the first time for everyone so just making some expectations and being fluid in the process, being open hearing guys out in their concerns.”
As captains, Becker and Mann feel a little more pressure to adhere to the rules — both in leading by example and holding others accountable — but know all their teammates are on the same page.
“Because we made the rules as a team,” Becker said, “it’s a team thing, and everyone’s bought into them. Everyone has that self-accountability.”