BEMIDJI -- Ethan Somoza spent much of his offseason training in an unconventional setting: his garage in California.
Fortunately, the Bemidji State men’s hockey captain was eventually able to return to the rink, and more recently to Minnesota, to begin preparations for the 2020-21 season.
The Beavers have been skating at the Sanford Center in recent weeks, though when they’ll play their first game remains to be determined. The team was originally scheduled to face the Minnesota Gophers in Minneapolis this Saturday, Oct. 3, but the coronavirus pandemic has put the season on hold for now.
“It’s a little bit frustrating not knowing, but we’re doing our best to follow the guidelines that are set,” Somoza said. “We want to make sure everyone’s staying safe from COVID. We don’t want anyone getting sick on our team. We’re trying to protect the coaches, the players, staff, fans.”
Practices are held with two separate groups, as the BSU women have also been doing, due to guidelines on the number of players who can be present at one time. The whole team can begin to practice together once COVID-19 testing can be worked out, which head coach Tom Serratore said is coming soon.
Bemidji State players are accustomed to split-squad practices, Serratore said, though they’ve become much more frequent this fall. His focus is on skill development and getting players in the weight room since many, like Somoza, were forced to get creative with their offseason training.
“The one benefit of starting a little later right now with our games is that our guys missed out probably all summer working with our strength coach,” Serratore said. “A lot of them couldn’t get into their local gyms. I think it allows us the time to get bigger, faster and stronger in the fall.”
The Beavers went their separate ways when the pandemic brought an abrupt ending to their season -- and NCAA Tournament aspirations -- in March. They’ve been grateful to be reunited in Bemidji.
“It’s really great to be together again,” Somoza said. “We had a long summer obviously since our season was cut short last year. The guys were separated for probably over four months. Being able to be back with the guys again is just a great feeling.”
Those in college hockey have an inkling of when games could potentially start.
The NCAA recently gave approval for the Division I college basketball season to tip off on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving. Many in hockey are hopeful the puck can drop on their season around that time, as well.
“We’re hoping we can get going with games at the end of November, just like a lot of college hockey, and that’s kind of what we’re looking at,” Serratore said. “That’s exciting from that standpoint, but we’ve got to get our testing in place. … That’s kind of where everybody’s at right now. But we have a good feel for how everything is going so far.”
In a sign of how strange hockey in 2020 has been, the Stanley Cup was just awarded earlier this week. Watching the playoffs only made Serratore more eager to begin the season.
“I watched more hockey this year than I probably do in the spring with the Stanley Cup Playoffs,” he said. “I just thought the hockey was outstanding. I think these guys were fresh. … It really energizes everybody else to get going playing hockey right now.”
Garage workouts behind him, Somoza is confident Bemidji State is one step closer to playing hockey again.
“We’re really optimistic right now,” Somoza said. “We’re really optimistic that our schedule is going to be set soon and we’re looking forward to it.”