For Strauss Mann, it was like being in high school again.
When the COVID-19 outbreak ended the Michigan hockey team’s season, the junior goaltender moved back in with his parents for the better part of four months — along with his three siblings, his cousin and a friend.
“It got kind of hectic,” Mann said, “but fun.”
In this unconventional offseason, living back at home with so many potential distractions, Mann knew he had to create some normalcy in a time that was anything but. Like his days in Ann Arbor, he woke up early every morning to work out and watched film whenever he got the chance.
“Obviously there was not a lot of fun stuff to do in quarantine,” Mann said. “My mindset was kind of just to find a way to get better and use the time to be productive hockey-wise.”
Senior forward Jack Becker echoed this sentiment. Unlike most other sports, hockey players often leave home in their final years of high school to play in junior leagues, so training at home is something most players have never experienced. So while it was nice to be home with family for an extended period of time, he needed to make sure he remained in hockey mode.
“I would usually wake up early in the morning and work out with my little brother, and then I took some classes in spring term,” Becker said. “So I would usually have class in the morning after that and then go shoot pucks or watch video, do the hockey thing.”
While this offseason was less structured than a usual one, with players having to hold themselves accountable for their training in new environments, the team kept in constant contact to make sure everyone was staying involved. They had Zoom meetings with the entire team every week and broke into smaller groups to discuss workouts.
The biggest benefit of the virtual offseason, though, was that the freshman class could partake. In a normal year, the team is still practicing and playing through mid-March — sometimes into April, with in-person meetings when the season ends. Freshmen typically don’t get acclimated until the summer. Since everything was online this time around, it was easy for them to join in and get the lay of the land earlier than they otherwise would have.
“Obviously we have such a big freshman class that we’re seeing, even now, it’s paid dividends,” Mann said. “We’ve already built those relationships, even if it was virtual. So now I feel like even though it is September, we definitely put in the time over that break to keep staying in touch.”
While the team made sure that they didn’t fall behind from a hockey standpoint during the quarantine period, there remained plenty of time for fun. Group chats were filled with Tik Toks and Instagram challenges made their way through the team.
“(Junior defenseman Nick Blankenburg) maybe just started it out of nowhere,” Mann said. “I remember I was sitting in bed reading a book and my phone rang. He was like ‘Yo, do the five-puck challenge. I just nominated you,’ so I got up and kinda did that out of nowhere.”
In an offseason filled with so much uncertainty, staying focused and improving team morale and chemistry became crucial. While last season ended in unique disappointment, the extended offseason could benefit the Wolverines in the long-run.
“It was definitely a blessing in disguise with quarantine,” Becker said. “I think that’s gone a long way at the start of the year. I think we really took advantage of the time and made the most of it.”