In the jumbled environment of enclosed communication due to the coronavirus, organized sports have taken a back seat. Unable to perform the usual daily habits in the locker room or practice, BGSU hockey is aiming to grow together while remaining isolated.
The reflection of last season started immediately which is not the usual case for head coach Ty Eigner. In his experiences as a coach, when going through the motions at the end of the year it can be tough to take a look back immediately following the final buzzer. The abrupt cancelation of the remainder of the schedule gave Eigner a chance to ponder.
“Going through what we went through, it gives us a chance to look at our year from start to finish and at the end of the day you can evaluate it pretty honestly,” he said.
A dreary January saw the Falcons claim just one victory, but immediately following the slump they surged through the end of the season and conference playoffs on a 10-game unbeaten streak. Had the season not been cut short, BGSU would be holding one of the longest active unbeaten streaks in college hockey—all while in the middle of a postseason battle, having just swept through Alaska Anchorage and getting ready for the WCHA semifinals.
“The feeling we had leaving Alaska and going to Minnesota preparing for Bemidji State was night and day to how we felt about ourselves when we were going through what we were going through in January,” Eigner said.
Junior forward Brandon Kruse, like the rest of the team, was firing on all cylinders when the abrupt end came.
“This was a big growing year for myself, personally, and our team collectively. We had the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. I think it was a great learning experience for all of us and great for our development,” he said.
Regarding the much larger picture, Eigner categorized the Falcons’ season as a whole as “good, not great,” arguing had February and January’s results been flipped on the calendar the team and its supporters would most likely have a sour taste in their mouths as to how the year played out.
Now in a heightened offseason, the standard electronic communication as taken the place of the everyday chat players and coaches would have at team facilities. Instead of everyone meeting up at the rink, everyone is meeting up in a group chat or a Zoom video call.
“On the weekends guys will go on Zoom calls and chat just to pick each others brains and see where everyone is at. We can learn from one another and obviously during this pandemic you want to stay safe and healthy,” Kruse said.
However, just because the routine is in place does not mean it is invulnerable to challenges. WhenEigner and the team received the news their season has ended they took their bus back to Bowling Green where spring break at just begun. Some players and staff stayed in the area and others went home. As the coronavirus situation developed and consequently moved the university to online learning, concerns formed.
“We’re trying to answer questions they have about their academics and about their grade options and about priority registration and about how to get back in the dorms to retrieve belongings and about next year. We’re being real honest with them. Sometimes we don’t have the answer,” Eigner said.
There may be questions unanswered but this confusing time allows these student-athletes to focus on tasks they need to accomplish for the team as a whole. The responsibility has led to trust in everyone to play their part in making sure they are physically and mentally fit.
“You’re responsible for your academics and you’re responsible for your physical fitness,” Eigner said. “We do try to stress with our guys is ask them regularly how they are doing, are they doing OK mentally?”
Each player can be different, but for the most part everyone wants to stay busy.
“I’m just trying to stay occupied. I’ll try doing puzzles and playing games but really just working out and working on hockey skills as much as I can. It’s good to be around the family but obviously I wish I was doing normal things,” Kruse said.
Eigner hopes the departure from normality will help his players realize the quality of their relationships. He wants to make sure no one takes what they have accomplished, on and off the ice, for granted.
“Hopefully we can all appreciate what it is like to be a part of a team—how fortunate we are to get to do what we do… talking to other coaches in different sports across the country, they’re scared, they’re nervous, they’re worried about their players, but we believe [our players] are going to take care of what they need to take care of. We have faith that we brought the right kids in here,” he said.
For Kruse, who was drafted by the Vegas Golden Knights of the NHL after his freshman year, there wasn’t a second thought about possibly leaving school early and signing a professional contract. He wanted to stay and play out his senior season.
“There really wasn’t a whole lot to it. I wanted to stay and graduate. Especially after my freshman year, I fell in love with this place and I would never be ready to leave early. I love my junior class and being together with this program. I’ve learned so much and battled through a lot and we have unfinished business,” Kruse said. “We have a lot to prove and I have a lot to prove to myself too, so I’m really excited.”