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COVID-19 wreaks havoc on Bulldogs, Yellowjackets, Saints hockey schedules this weekend

The Twin Ports' college hockey teams felt the brunt of the latest COVID-19 surge thanks to omicron this weekend. Five of the six NCAA Division I and III men's and women's programs in Duluth and Superior had games canceled or postponed between Thursday and Sunday due to healthy and safety protocols.

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Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) is introduced on Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. The Bulldogs were scheduled to play an NCHC series at St. Cloud State this weekend, however, it was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols at UMD. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — At 11:59 a.m. Friday, the Wisconsin-Superior women’s hockey team announced in a now-deleted Tweet it would be hosting Bethel University on Sunday. The game was added after the Yellowjackets nonconference series at College of St. Benedict in St. Cloud was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols.

Two hours and 39 minutes later, UW-Superior announced the game with Bethel was canceled due to health and safety protocols. It marked the 10th game to be axed by the coronavirus and its latest contagious variant — omicron — out of the 12 that were scheduled to be played by the Twin Ports’ NCAA Division I and III men’s and women’s college hockey programs between Thursday and Sunday.

Only two games took place, both on Saturday. St. Scholastica women beat Finlandia 7-0 in Hancock, Michigan, and the Yellowjackets edged Concordia 4-3 in overtime in Moorhead, Minnesota.

The UWS men were supposed to play Thursday, but that game at Saint John’s in St. Cloud was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols.

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UW-Superior head coach Rich McKenna talks with forward Coltyn Bates (29) before the Yellowjackets hit the ice to begin the second period of their game with UW-Stevens Point at Wessman Arena in Superior on Saturday evening, Nov. 20, 2021. Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

The St. Scholastica men had their MIAC series at Saint Mary’s in Winona, Minnesota, canceled by COVID-19 protocols, and because it was the Saints who were unable to compete, they had to forfeit both games, resulting in a pair of 1-0 wins for the Cardinals in the league standings, per MIAC rules.

Minnesota Duluth’s men’s and women’s teams were both scheduled to play conference series at St. Cloud State on Friday and Saturday, however, COVID-19 outbreaks within both programs resulted in the postponement of those series.

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Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota, opened in 1989 and can host 5,159 fans. The HBNC was scheduled to host Wisconsin-Superior vs. Saint John's in men's hockey on Thursday, and doubleheaders between the Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State men's and women's programs on Friday and Saturday. All five games were postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. Mick Hatten / File / Forum News Service

Bulldogs men’s coach Scott Sandelin — whose team had players out due to COVID-19 in late November and early December — said Thursday it seems “inevitable” that every team at some point is going to endure an outbreak of COVID-19.

“When we had two cases before, you hope it’s done, but then you see what’s gone on the last month with omicron,” Sandelin said, referencing the variant responsible for the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. “Everyone is going to get it. There’s a lot of people that probably have it that don’t even know it.

“It sucks, but it is what it is right now. Maybe it’s good we got a lot of guys so we don’t have to worry about it.”

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Policies evolving

Back in August, the NCAA Sports Science Institute released guidelines for how college athletic programs should handle COVID-19 testing, masking and quarantine for vaccinated and unvaccinated players.

Those guidelines went unchanged until Thursday, when NCAA’s COVID-19 Medical Advisory group finally put out new guidelines that aligned with recent changes by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They included a new definition for “fully vaccinated” — within two months of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, five months of receiving two doses of Pfizer and six months of receiving two doses of Moderna. If you’re beyond those timeframes, a booster vaccine is necessary.

Anyone who has a documented case of COVID-19 in the past 90 days is also considered “fully vaccinated.”

Players, coaches and staff who are fully vaccinated only need to test for COVID-19 if they are symptomatic or there is sustained transmission within a team — meaning three or more concurrent cases of COVID-19. No quarantining is necessary for someone who is fully vaccinated if they are a close contact to someone of an infected individual.

No matter one's vaccination status, the NCAA now recommends at least a five-day quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19. Isolation can then end if symptoms have subsided.

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The NCAA’s new quarantine guidelines align with the CDC’s recommendation, however, the Minnesota Department of Health has not changed its guidelines yet. The MDH, and the University of Minnesota system, are still recommending at least a 10-day quarantine, which is what the Bulldogs are doing, according to UMD’s director of hockey sports performance, Dr. Susan Hoppe. That could change if the MDH and University of Minnesota system changes its protocols, Hoppe said.

While the pace of change when it comes to protocols can be frustrating, UMD women’s coach Maura Crowell said it’s not something she can control, so it doesn’t do her any good to get upset about it.

“They're trying to avoid community spread and that's the bigger picture,” Crowell said. “That's what I have to be thinking of when sometimes we get caught in our little little rabbit holes of what's going on with UMD women's hockey. It's a much bigger issue than us.”

Bulldogs remain hopeful

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Minnesota Duluth celebrates after Anna Klein (19) scored a second goal during the first period on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. The Bulldogs were scheduled to play at St. Cloud State this weekend in WCHA play, but the series was postponed due to COVID-19 protocols at UMD. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Both Sandelin and Crowell went into the weekend hopeful they will be back in action next weekend, though both said it was still too early to make any predictions on whether the series scheduled for Amsoil Arena will happen, and on the dates and times they’re currently scheduled for.

The UMD women are scheduled to host Bemidji State in WCHA play at 3:01 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, while the men are slated to host Miami in NCHC play at 7:07 p.m. both nights, for now.

Sandelin and Crowell were also confident their games against St. Cloud State will be rescheduled, though those games will now likely be played midweek as the women have no free weekends — as of now — and the Huskies have a series scheduled for the men’s only open weekend of Feb. 4-5.

Crowell, a former assistant and associate head coach at Harvard, said midweek games aren’t as big of a deal in the second half of the season with practices getting shorter. It also helps that Duluth’s Amsoil Arena and SCSU’s Herb Brooks National Hockey Center are just 144 miles apart.

“We had a league meeting the other day and I said, ‘Across the country, people play midweek games quite a bit,” Crowell said. “Obviously our distances are a little further than some of the schools out east, but it is something fairly normal. If that’s what we need to do to get these games in, that’s a priority.”

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Minnesota Duluth players gather around Minnesota Duluth goaltender Ryan Fanti (39) prior to the start of the game against Alaska on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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