Moving Forward: How Omaha Hockey prepared to return to play

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Grace Wirka
CONTRIBUTOR

Baxter Arena, where Omaha hockey will be returning to play in the NCHC pod. Photo courtesy of Omavs.com

This past year has been a challenge for everyone.

Nearly everyone has had some hurdles to jump and disappointments to overcome. The greatest part of a story isn’t the failure of the hero, but the redemption that results from the hard work. When the world stopped, most people, though disappointed, understood that a shutdown was needed.

As days went on and the calendar kept flipping, some people were itching to get back into their ice rinks and play. These people included the members of the UNO hockey team.

In hockey, nine months is an excruciatingly long offseason. During those nine months, ice wasn’t always available to the Mavericks. They had to find other ways to continue working on improving their skills and getting ready for a fall season. After a disappointing end to a season and a never ending off season, how does one prepare to bounce back for an unknown upcoming season?

The extended time off gave UNO hockey players a lot of time to look back on their past season, reflect on how they played, evaluate what kind of player they were and understand their contributions to the team. In a season of waiting, the players had realized all the opportunities they took for granted during the season.

Often, it was simply the fact that they had ice easily available during the season. Other times, it was reflecting and realizing the times that they could’ve worked harder and given a little bit more in practice, or in a game. Instead of letting this get them down, they used these thoughts to push themselves to come back better than ever.

Whether it was doing the workouts sent out by their strength coach Mike Lewis, working with personal skill coaches, watching film or working on the mental side of the game by listening to podcasts, reading books to working on their leadership skills, the Mavericks took every opportunity during the extended offseason to bounce back in full force when they returned to campus this fall.

After losing an opportunity at a playoff run and proving their strength and skills, the Mavericks were more than ready to hit the ice in the return to play on December 1 when they faced off against Minnesota Duluth. The final outcome of the game wasn’t what the Mavericks hoped for, but they still had a great first game back. After Minnesota Duluth scored early in the first period, the Mavericks wasted no time in responding and evening the score, and then taking the lead of the game until later in the third period.

Although the Mavericks didn’t end the night with a win on the score sheet, it is in some ways still a win worth noting in the books. At the beginning of the new school term, the fate of the 2020-2021 hockey season was still unknown. For a while, it didn’t seem like a season was possible until early next year, but then the NCHC announced their plan for return with a pod set up in Omaha at Baxter Arena.

After nine long months of waiting and preparing, being able to get back out on the ice and play a game of hockey was a win for the Mavericks. After having the last season cut short, not only were players able to bounce back and come back hungry for competition, but college hockey itself was able to bounce back and bring back some normalcy for its fans and athletes. Despite all the setbacks and COVID-19 cases still raging across the country, the NCHC was able to devise a safe plan to give back players and fans a bit of normalcy. The game on Dec. 1 was a win for everybody, no matter the outcome.

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