Uncertainty still surrounds the prospect of a BGSU hockey season in 2020

Shayne Nissen and Shayne Nissen

The BGSU hockey team was preparing to play in the WCHA tournament semifinals in March of this year, when the tournament was canceled and their season ended. Now, the team is just 43 days away from their slated start of the season on Oct. 9, and they are still holding hope that a season can happen.

While that hope stays alive and the WHCA has not publicized a plan, BGSU head hockey coach Ty Eigner and the league are not oblivious to what is going on around them. 

“Right now, the WCHA has not publicly come out with anything like that so we are operating today at Bowling Green like we are starting as normal. We have had a bunch of conversations as a league and as a university about what it may end up looking like,” Eigner said. 

“Starting as normal” means “normal” in the sense they’re starting on time. Temperature checks, testing, social distancing, masks and keeping a tracing journal are commonplace for everyone in the Bowling Green athletics department. 

The coaches around the league have come up with four potential scenarios as to when the league might start playing: starting on time, starting around Thanksgiving break, starting on Jan. 1 or not starting the season at all.

The last option is obviously the one they most want to avoid for multiple reasons; the foremost being how last year’s season was cut short by the coronavirus. 

“Everybody that had their season cut short last year, the teams that were still playing, we all have sort of a sour taste in our mouth based on how it ended last year because it has never happened like that before. So every one of those teams are excited to come back and start again this year,” Eigner said.

Another reason that many athletes and coaches alike want to avoid a season’s cancellation is for the prospect of playing professional hockey. Brandon Kruse, a forward for the Falcons, is going to be a senior this season, and he knows that not playing for a long amount of time can stunt the development of young hockey players.

“I think that it is just important to have that competitiveness and to be able to go against other guys on different teams. Without having a season, there would be a long time with us not playing a competitive hockey game. I just think it is important for all of us just to keep developing as hockey players and that comes from having seasons,” Kruse said.

While these start times have been talked about in the hockey community, Eigner isn’t oblivious to the fact that college basketball will largely push the narrative about whether winter sports will be played or not.

“In the winter sports you look at basketball, the men’s basketball and the Final Four and the women’s Final Four. Those are huge undertakings and massive events and they come with a bunch of TV money. The rest of us, we are just hoping that the NCAA is going to figure out basketball soon because once basketball gets sorted out then we can eventually look at doing something,” Eigner said.

Eigner also notes that hockey will probably follow basketball’s timeline and is hoping that the NCAA can figure this out so college hockey can follow suit.

College basketball isn’t the only thing that might dictate hockey either. College football is the big money maker for almost every Division I university, and Eigner knows how important they are to his team’s prospect of a season too.

“Let’s be honest, at the Division I level you look at what’s kind of been the driver to these conversations and it has been college football. Everybody understood and especially at the Division I level how important college football is at most of the Division I schools, how important that is in terms of revenue and potential revenue, so that is a huge piece to the puzzle,” he said.

The 2020 football season is not happening at BGSU, and while all of this brings an unprecedented level of uncertainty, the players and coaches are treating this offseason like they would any other. Even then, things aren’t quite normal.

While most players usually stay in Bowling Green to work out for the summer, but because of construction on Slater Family Ice Arena this year, and the pandemic, players were told to stay home and try to find a good place to train there.

Kruse and others on the team are just trying to make what they can out of the situation that they have been given.

“Going back to quarantine and even now I’m just trying to work out as much as possible. I’m just fortunate enough to have a decent gym at my house, so I just lift as much as I can during the week at home. Then as rinks started to open up especially in Ohio, I would drive down to Toledo a couple of times during the week and skate with some of the guys that stayed in BG,” Kruse said.

Even with the unusual circumstances, Eigner and the rest of the coaches know that there are still certain things that the team can control. 

“There are two things that they can be responsible for during the summer and that is their nutrition and their fitness. Our guys know and understand the importance of being in the best shape possible, so they are responsible for coming back to school and Bowling Green in the best shape possible,” he said.

As for the winter sports being potentially moved to the spring, Kruse notes that a move to the spring could help incoming freshmen to catch up with the speed of the game, but Eigner notes how challenging a move like this would be with so many sports already attempting to make that move.

“I think that it would be difficult if we all got pushed back to the spring, the logistics of running fall, winter and spring sports all at the same time all on our campus, I have to believe that would be a little bit of a nightmare,” Eigner said.

Everyone around the BGSU hockey program knows that their season could end or be postponed at a moment’s notice. But that isn’t going to deter them from their ultimate goal of not only having a season, but winning a WCHA title.