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Hockey on hold

And so we wait, but for how long?

Word came down earlier this week that hockey, and other high risk winter sports, were officially on hold as the NYSPHAA continues its studies on how do to find ways to allow student-athletes to safely compete as the country is still in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So, instead of gathering at rinks for practices and team meetings, coaches, players and their families are left to deal with more uncertainty.

“I hope they can find a way that makes sense and is safe, but you don’t know,” said Williamsville North boys varsity coach Bob Rosen.

Rosen and his team know all too well the stress and struggles Covid has placed on high school athletes.

Last March the Spartans were all set to compete in the Division I state tourney at HarborCenter when everything was put on hold.

Eventually states were cancelled all together. It was a blow to the players, especially the seniors, but the coaching staff and underclassmen were optimistic about the future.

The feeling was that at some point, the virus would be under control and the 2020-21 season would start on time.

Fresh out of pep talks, Rosen confesses that he is at a loss for what to tell his boys.

“I’m speechless,” said Rosen. “You don’t even know what to say to a kid. You keep hoping it’s gonna happen, but every day there’s something else thrown at you and it doesn’t look like it.”

Rosen pointed out with the way cases are rising in WNY there is serious talk of all schools going remote-possibly until after Christmas break.

Add in the mix of cases popping up through travel hockey and colleges like RIT calling off its season. All these factors do not bode well for high school hockey.

Word of the season being in limbo has been just as devastating for the girls.

Lancaster High School’s Dylan Gorski said she was looking forward to this season more than any other year. A member of LID since eighth grade, Gorski has made a huge impact for her team as it’s starting goalie.

Nevertheless, Dylan was especially excited about this year. Being her senior year she knew it was her chance to not only play well but make her mark as a leader.

“All the seasons I’ve been waiting for this moment to finally be a senior and have my time to shine (as a leader),” said Gorski.

The worries over a delayed or flat out cancelled season is not exclusive to players and coaches. While Section VI obviously doesn’t generate the type of money the NHL does high school hockey creates an economic ripple effect that touches countless businesses and people.

No season means rinks lose the income of ice rental time.

Restaurants lose the money of teams doing pre or post-game team dinners and hotels lose out on teams staying as guests.

It all stretches to the media as it creates fewer potential story ideas for outlets to work on.

Outlets like Icing the Fed and NYHockey Online, which specialize in hockey, face financial and creative challenges.

Randy Schultz, who owns NYHockey Online with his wife Janet, said from the start their concern wasn’t so much dollars and cents as it was continued coverage of the sport. So back in March, Randy made a promise that no matter what he would find a way to generate new content so players and teams don’t miss attention.

“I vowed every day, at least in our Facebook page, I would have something posted from across the state,” said Randy Schultz.

“I didn’t care if it was youth hockey, if it was high school hockey, girls, boys, minor league, NHL. It didn’t matter and by God I have had at least one new story every day.”

Schultz, who sits on the board at Cornerstone Arena in Lockport, said thanks to Executive Director Shelley Unocic, they have looked outside the box to create a revenue stream by converting part of the arena into a daycare center.

With an experienced, quality daycare provider overseeing the operation and social distancing and Covid protocols being followed Cornerstone has been able to be a safe haven for kids to take part in activities and projects during the day.

Along with generating cash flow it was a way for Cornerstone to give back to the community by providing a much-needed service.

“They wanted (Cornerstone) to be a community place,” he said. “And I think through something like this it proved what could be a community place. It’s the heart of Lockport. It’s a jewel in Lockport, whatever term you want to use.”

The biggest concern obviously is for the kids. Beyond the fact that the lack of games will effect kids efforts to obtain college scholarships the greatest worry is the mental health of kids. No sports and continued disruption to their days creates even more stress for them and their parents to confront every day.

Some parents have also raised the worry of kids falling into depression and turning to substances like drugs and alcohol as a way to escape the situation.

“From my perspective I have a lot more free time now that sports aren’t going on,” said Gorski. “So if I could see how people could think it could lead to things like that.”

Gorski said perhaps the toughest part, is the unknown. They have no idea when or if they will be on the ice or together again as a team.

“We have all this hope that there will be a season, but it’s almost like all the other sports are getting pushed back and I feel like everything is getting pushed back,” said Gorski. “It’s almost like I don’t know if we should have hope or just accept it.”

Rosen said the band of brothers/sisters bond you create with teammates and family with coaches is what makes the game so special. It’s those cherished relationships you create that stay with you for the long haul. Which is why the prospect of no season cuts so deeply.

“That’s something that I cherish about coaching,” said Rosen.

Rosen said that to this day he still stays in contact with a former player who hardly ever saw the ice. Reflecting on one long phone conversation with this player Rosen joked how their talk was probably longer than his career minutes logged. But it was through hockey that they created their bond. So no hockey means people will experience personal losses that can never be tabulated.

But the reality is with so much unknown about Covid and safety concern Rosen can’t help but wonder if it’s safe to return to the rink even if the season was given the green light.

“You worry about the safety of the kids,” said Rosen.

“It’s not so much them getting sick it’s getting sick and going around my mother. Going around my father-in-law. Going around somebody and God Forbid they get sick.”

Dylan Gorski understands the difficulty of these decisions and obviously knows safety first but like any kid, she just wants to be with her friends.

“That’s one of the biggest things that I’m sad about,” Gorski said. “Because all my friendships in hockey that I’ve built all throughout the years of playing for LID. Its our final year and it’s just taken from us. It’s almost like there’s no chance to say goodbye.”

Perhaps the most challenging part is trying to make sense of it all. Weighing what is best for the safety of everyone against the wishes and wants of our hearts and the simple fact kids just want to be kids and play.

Asking why can this or that sport or activity play, but not another?

“There’s no easy answer,” lamented Rosen.

“If there was we would have found it by now.”

Feature Image C/O Janet Schultz/NYHockeyOnline

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