Updated: January 12, 2021 11:39 PM
Created: January 11, 2021 08:05 PM
Three games into their 2020-2021 season, the Minnesota Wilderness men's hockey team had to un-lace their skates. Their season was put on hold due to Covid-19 restrictions in the state.
But now, "the boys are back and we're just ready to play some games," said defenseman Grant Docter.
They weren't the only team in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) to halt game play, as other Minnesota squads also had to pause their season.
"It is hard I think. You know when you prepare yourself for games you get kind of in that mindset, and so it's tough when it's delayed. But you know we're not the only people hurting," said Jon Vaillancourt, head coach of the Wilderness.
However teams in the league located in different states were able to continue playing. They were able to get about two more months of hockey under their belts.
"It's been difficult because everyone else has been playing so we know they're game ready," said Wilderness defenseman Dane Stoyanoff. "We've just got to come to work every day and we've got to work hard and try to make up that ground that we lost."
"[We're] just [trying to] get back into everything, get back into practice, get back into a routine and rhythm. I mean going home [we] kind of got out of that and I think we just are starting to get back into it. We're really ready to get rolling here," said Docter.
The Wilderness returned to practice last week. In that time head coach Vaillancourt said they've been focusing on conditioning, pace, and building their team identity.
"We've hit it mostly last week. [Building] our culture, believing in our identity, and really playing with our identity and playing with our culture in mind," said Vaillancourt. "Which is hard nosed northern Minnesota style hockey, playing high [with the] tempo high pace."
The guys in green will get to skate a full 60 game schedule. The league extended their regular season through May 15th. They're scheduled to host 28 home games with 150 fans allowed at their matches in Cloquet.
"I always refer to the fans here as our sixth player in the ice," said Vaillancourt. "We're just really excited to get back and play in front of our fans and try to just bring that brand of hockey that they know and love here."
"Everyone's really happy to be back and, you know, maybe other teams are kind of a little banged up right now but we're fresh and we're good and we're healthy," said Stoyanoff.
The Wilderness open their 2021 slate Friday January 15th visiting the Janesville Jets.
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