My Crazy Pandemic Life

How Players, Coaches And Others Overcame And Adapted To Trying Times And Came Out Better For It
Tom Worgo

For a year-and-a-half, the pandemic wreaked havoc on professional and amateur sports at every level.

It left coaches, players and administrators isolated and stranded at home alone. That made it harder for players to train, coaches to communicate with team members and mangers to put on clinics and share information.

But through it all, players and coaches have risen to the challenge. They developed alternative methods and techniques to train. That has meant using video conferencing frequently and getting creative with workouts outside of a gym.

Indeed, those things have since become common practice for a lot of coaches and players.

"I think what Covid did was force people to think outside of the box," says Heather Mannix, a USA Hockey ADM female hockey manager who works with associations across the country. 

"They had to become creative in the way they approach training and ways they connected with their players or players connecting with each other. Hockey is a close-knit sport. Hockey teams become like little families. That was taken away from a lot of us."

The pandemic made in-person clinics impossible. But resourceful coaches came up with web-based alternatives.

Coaches who were reluctant to share drills or techniques with another within earshot could communicate one-on-one using Zoom video conferencing.

"We will start to phase back in-person coaching clinics, but I don't think the virtual clinics will go away," Mannix explains. "It allows for a coach from Massachusetts to talk and collaborate with a coach from San Diego. You will have drills that they have never heard of before or seen before and now you have the opportunity to talk to them about how they do it." 

Certainly, Zoom, which was used rarely before the pandemic hit, has been central to keeping teams together. Coaches and players bring it up again and again.

"Now, it's a staple in many people's lives," Mannix says. "They have quickly adapted and changed with it."

It has become a significant part of Dartmouth senior defenseman Harrison Markell's hockey routine since he uses Zoom on a regular basis to connect with many of his teammates.

"You just want to reach out to teammates and be in touch and let them know what is going on with your training and skating," he says. "You just want to continue to bond. That is going to be really important leading into next season."

Dani Cameranesi, a 2018 U.S. Women's Olympic Team gold medalist, admits she doesn't like to spend a lot of time on computers. But the 26-year-old Plymouth, Minn., native admits that Zoom is a crucial tool to staying connected.

"I used Zoom once or twice a week during the pandemic," Cameranesi said. "I may slow down with it, but I will certainly still use it."

Players say communication with teammates and sharing training virtually have made them better.

With Cameranesi, a forward who played at the University of Minnesota, it provided an added dimension: nutrition. Pre-pandemic, she was already eating healthy, but just needed to be more informed on the subject.

Cameranesi discovered that because of her intense workouts, she was burning more calories than she was consuming. She scrutinized her calories by using the application MyFitnessPal, which tracks diet and exercise.

"I was taking in about 2,000 calories," she explains. "I really needed more than that. I am taking in about 2,600 calories or more now. I keep track of the calories I am burning when I am working out and it's like a 1,000 a day or around that. I have to make sure I replenish all that."

Cameranesi is eating more proteins like chicken and ground turkey. She's enthusiastic talking about her change in diet.

"I generally eat well, but I have been more diligent in what I eat and make sure I am putting all the right things in my body," she says. "And I really try to get all my veggies in. I really like carbs and sometimes I need to control that and add in more vegetables. I still eat desserts. You have to treat yourself."  

With her local gyms closed, Cameranesi discovered Plyometrics, which involves a lot of jumping, sprinting and pushing football sleds at a field near her home in Maple Grove, Minn. After those exercises, she finished up with more jumps and runs around cones in a sand volleyball court.

"I am doing it four times a week," says Cameranesi, who is expected to be on the U.S. Women's National Team that will compete at the IIHF Women's World Championship at the end of August in Canada. "It has translated into making me a better player."

Markell needed to be more creative with his workouts when the gyms were closed, and he couldn't get on the ice. So he found alternatives like long bike rides, pull ups and all kinds of conditioning work, including running up and down stairs at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

He's made this routine a permanent part of his regimen.

"I don't think the biggest thing was just doing those exercises or planks or things," Markell says. "It was going through a tempo to make things harder. That way you got the most out of minimal equipment."

Aside from the players, coaches also faced their own significant adjustments.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute head coach Dave Smith made good use of his time during the pandemic by going on a "mission" of watching video, along with his coaching staff of about 40 teams.

The mission also involved calling several coaches and quizzing them on their success. The bottom line: The Engineers want to learn from opponents.

"We wanted to ask one question: What makes them good," Smith says.  "Not how you beat them. I feel we learned a ton. I think we have added some drills to our library and some strategies to our own concepts. We definitely have enhanced our opportunity to use more things. We made the best of a very difficult situation for the team and the coaches."

It was painful for Dartmouth coach Reid Cashman not to be able to go on the road and recruit players since it was his first year on the job. But he spent his time getting to know his coaching staff better.

They spent so much time together and talking to the players that Cashman feels that they were able to make more progress in one year than they would normally make in three years.

"It was nice that our staff got to be together every day," Cashman recalls. "We all come from different schools and backgrounds and worked for different people. We all got to sit in a room and said, 'What is important to us? What is our foundation as a program? How do we want to build that foundation?' So, we got a lot of time together talking about our histories and philosophies."

Cashman also took advantage of his contacts in the NHL and the American Hockey League-where he coached for four years-by calling numerous coaches to find out the best way to thrive in your first year.

He wanted to know about both their successes and failures.

"I think it made me a more prepared coach," says Cashman, who worked two years under former Capitals coach Todd Reirden. "We are so much more prepared for the hockey season coming up than we would have been prepared for last season."  

The pandemic created a new coaching opportunity for Brendan Goldstein.
He served as a coach in the Central Park Hawks youth hockey program, but the Lasker Rinks they skated on shut down for good just before the pandemic. Even so, he found other outlets to keep things moving.

That meant relocating from Manhattan to his home in the Hamptons and starting what he calls a morning boot camp using Zoom for about 12 players from his previous team and quickly added reinforcements from the South Hampton Youth Hockey League. 

"Our season got cut short and I just felt like this was such a dynamic group of people, the players, the parents, the siblings, I just felt like it was my responsibility to continue a good thing," says Goldstein, who works in the financial services industry on Wall Street. "It created an opportunity for kids from New York City and Long Island to connect and be on the same team." 

The boot camp started in the spring of 2020 and went through the fall. It will resume again in mid-August and run until the end of October.

"There is an emphasis on fundamentals, skill development and working on the basics, so when you have an opportunity to play in a game, you have all those skills in place," Goldstein says. "It was like a crash course in fundamentals."

That led to bigger things, with Goldstein helping start up a travel hockey program in South Hampton. Before, it only offered hockey for clinics and rec teams.

The program featured a 16U team this past season that ended in June. It expanded to four teams for this winter, including 12U and 8U squads that will include Goldstein's sons Max and Evan. 

Goldstein says it is such a big deal because it gives the South Hampton program more visibility and an identity in the Northeast.

"This is the real story because hockey is not that big out here." 

Tom Worgo is a freelance writer based in Annapolis, Md.




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