ST. CLOUD, Minn. — It was not maybe the ultimate road trip because there were a lot of limitations with the coronavirus pandemic in play. But it sounds like the St. Cloud State men's hockey team enjoyed its three-week-plus experience of playing in the NCHC Pod in Omaha, Neb.
The Huskies went 6-3 in their nine games and had some memorable games and moments on the ice. But what went into getting to the arena, what they did in their off time and what happened to ensure that 38 games would take place with eight teams is what members of St. Cloud State's team will remember the most.
"Just the sacrifice everybody had to make to make it possible and kind of how it all worked out," Huskies senior alternate captain Seamus Donohue said. "I remember when we heard that it might be a possibility and the rumor started to spread, just how excited we were because we hadn't played in so long.
"When it became more of a reality and it started to settle in that it was an experience we were going to be able to have ... it was kind of surreal because we had seen it play out on TV with different stories on what the NHL went through. To have a similar experience was going to be super special for us."
The teams all went through a 10-day quarantine and COVID-19 testing prior to going to Omaha. Once they got to Omaha, there was testing that took place at three stations in the club lounge at the arena.
"We got tested every game day and then once a week on top of all that just to make sure everything was good," St. Cloud State junior defenseman Nick Perbix said. "It would go relatively quick. It was part of the routine."
Health care workers administered nostril swab tests on players and members of teams' traveling parties during the three-week stay.
Testing is continuing for teams as they begin the second half. St. Cloud State plays Minnesota Duluth at 6 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday in an NCHC series at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
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Walking to the rink
The hotels that the teams were staying at were less than a mile away from Baxter Arena, where games and practices were held. When the Huskies had a game or practice, they would put on masks and walk to the arena.
Western Michigan and Minnesota Duluth stayed in the same hotel with St. Cloud State. Each team was assigned to a floor and interaction with other teams was, at the most, quite limited.
"Our paths would really only cross in the lobby once in a while," Donohue said. "Every team had their own space to congregate, eat, do film or whatever.
"The odd time was when there would be waiting for the elevator with someone else (from another team). Depending on how many guys there were, you would just say, 'You guys go first and we'll wait back for the next one."
Like the other NCHC teams in Omaha, the Huskies also had to take in classes and complete final exams during their time in the Pod.
"That was a bit different and there was definitely a lot of communication with teachers that was needed," Perbix said. "Some of them were in-class classes and we had to be in the bubble.
"There were designated (study hall) days where some people had to be there. There would be a group of us that, even if we didn't have study hall, we'd go there and it was just a quiet place to work on homework and stuff."
Each St. Cloud State player had a roommate and, when they had some down time, some creativity went into how they spent it.
Perbix said that he and senior forward Kevin Fitzgerald probably played the most table tennis out of everyone on the team.
"Fitzy and I played a lot of close games and, other than the first one, I managed to edge him out, but they were always within four points," Perbix said. "It was crazy how I managed to win almost all of them."
Goalie Joey Lamoreaux also brought a puzzle that several players worked on together. Donohue said that there were card games. So it was not just video games.
"(NCHC commissioner) Josh (Fenton) and the league took a major risk and it paid off," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "This was big time from every aspect.
"You know what, it's the little things I'll remember too. Seeing the boys playing ping-pong in the lobby, hanging out in their rooms and playing knee hockey or doing puzzles. The times that the teams were able to spend together and bond are invaluable. Seeing them playing spike ball in the parking lot when it's 20 degrees and how they grew together and had a blast with it — not just on the ice, but off the ice — was an overall great experience."