March 11, 2020 will forever be remembered by sports fan around the world. Heck, even non-sports fans will remember the day that the world seemed to grind to a halt. Following a positive test for COVID-19 from Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert, the NBA suspended the rest of the 2019–20 season. Following the NBA’s route, nearly every major sports league or event was postponed or canceled within hours. The NHL and AHL followed suit the next afternoon, suspending the season indefinitely until more information can be known about the virus and the growing spread of cases can be contained.
For the Rockford IceHogs, the suspension of play puts their season on hold right in the thick of a Calder Cup Playoffs push. Through 63 games, the IceHogs are tied for fourth place in the AHL Central Division with the Chicago Wolves at 62 points. Thirteen games remain on the schedule, but with the further announcement from the AHL on March 16 that the suspension of play would not be lifted until at least May 1, there is a wide range of information, planning and just plain old waiting that will need to unfold before any teams get back on the ice.
So how is the team handling the stoppage of play? Without workouts, access to team facilities and with players being given the green light to return to their homes outside of Rockford, there is a lot of down time facing the players and coaches. They are all in the same boat as most of the world right now, stuck at home.
“It’s way easier to keep your body physically ready than your mind,” said IceHogs defenseman Joni Tuulola. “I don’t really know what is going to happen in the next couple of weeks, so it’s just a pain in the a** to have to wait.”
Tuulola, like many of his AHL counterparts, is heading home to Finland until the future of the 2019–20 season is more clear.
“Of course I was very sad about the suspension, but I feel that was the right thing to do,” Tuulola said. “I like to say I hope the season will continue. We will see what’s going to happen, but I think the right people are making the decision on how we are going to end the season.”
The MLB, MLS, NBA and NHL are all on pins and needles at this point in time, their seasons either put on hold or facing major alterations to their schedules. The NFL offseason is being affected, too, with changes being made to the NFL draft and potentially changing the timing of preseason workouts. The NCAA canceled all winter and spring postseason tournaments, including the men’s and women’s Frozen Four and the men’s and women’s “March Madness” tournaments. In North America and across the world, essentially all sports have been put on hold until further notice.
For the IceHogs, this means getting creative to keep their fans engaged when they are craving hockey content. First, it started with players and coaches checking in and making sure the fans and their families are doing well in this crazy time.
"Wanted to reach out and let you guys know that we are thinking about ya. Thank you for supporting us all year and making the BMO an awesome place to play." – IceHogs forward Dylan Sikura pic.twitter.com/p30VoXD8sX
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) March 18, 2020
Team points leaders Dylan Sikura (33) and Tyler Sikura (34) both chimed in on the IceHogs’ social media pages to thank fans for their support and to remind everyone to listen to the guidelines that the global medical community has put forth to help curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Our captain. #leadership
"This is bigger than hockey. I encourage you to stay inside, stay safe and stay healthy." pic.twitter.com/94QpfVJwlv
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) March 17, 2020
Head coach Derek King also gave his update to the Rockford fan community, as the self-quarantining, social distancing and time working from home becomes the new normal for the majority of folks.
The 👑 checks in.
"Stay safe, be good, stay out trouble and go, Hogs go!" pic.twitter.com/sQXvoaC2H0
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) March 16, 2020
On Tuesday, the IceHogs and San Jose Barracuda played a best-of-three series on EA Sports NHL20 and live streamed the online game on Twitch. They even cut a highlights package from the virtual series.
Highlights🎥: We come from behind in game one and cruise to a win in game two to sweep San Jose in our first-ever video game series!
Check it out: https://t.co/F1o9a6i7Nl
— Rockford IceHogs (@goicehogs) March 17, 2020
Other IceHogs have used the new-found down time in a number of ways, and one shared how not to use it.
“Definitely don’t watch ‘Contagion’ or ‘Outbreak,'” joked IceHogs goaltender Collin Delia.
Watching movies and TV shows, reading new and old books and video games are popular ways for those stuck indoors to pass the time.
For Delia, he is getting the opportunity to focus on his life away from the rink at a pivotal time for his family.
“My go-to way to pass the time is to work on some leather projects with my girlfriend, Ava,” Delia said. “Our business (Portiere Leather Company) is in the Chicago area and we’ve been busy catching up on orders and making new projects.”
Delia and his girlfriend announced on their company’s Instagram account a few months back that they were expecting their first child, and the father-to-be is getting an unexpected chance to be home at an important time.
“We’ve been enjoying spending time together,” Delia said. “Ava is seven months pregnant, so it’s been great to be able to support her and watch our baby develop in light of the season being suspended.”
Delia expressed his hope for the 2019–20 season to be finished, but understands that very well may never come to fruition.
“I am optimistic that the season will resume,” Delia said. “However, there is a part of me that doesn’t think the season will start again because every day the situation is seemingly more dire. It seems like we won’t have any form of hockey until May 1, which is a long ways away.”
Like Tuulola said, this time in limbo will be a pain in the a**. But, we are in this together to get through this turbulent time in human history.
“Spend time with your family,” Tuulola said. “Times like these, the people around you are the most important. Keep your family close and have some good time with those who are closest to you.”
We at The Rink echo Tuulola’s message. Let those who you love and care about know you are thinking of them during this weird time in the world. Be safe, be well, be smart and be kind. We will get back to the rink and back on the ice soon enough.