KALAMAZOO, Mich. — On Thursday, March 12, the St. Cloud State men's hockey team went to Lawson Ice Center for a noon practice to prepare for a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinals series against Western Michigan.
But when Huskies coach Brett Larson got off the ice, he found out he needed to get in touch with his university's director of athletics, Heather Weems.
"We had a really good practice and when I got off the ice, Heather told me to call her immediately after practice," Larson said.
When he got a hold of Weems, he found out that the NCHC had cancelled its postseason tournament due to the spread of COVID-19 across the country. After Larson got off the phone, he brought the team together to tell them the news.
"I went in the locker room and closed the doors and told the guys and ... it got pretty emotional," said Larson, whose team has five seniors on this season's roster. "That's a tough way for such a special senior class — that has done so much for this program — to end their careers."
A few hours later, the NCAA announced that it was cancelling all of its postseason tournaments for winter and spring sports. St. Cloud State, which was the No. 1 overall seed in each of the last two NCAA tournaments, would have needed to win the NCHC tournament to qualify for the national tournament.
"You really don't know how to react or what to think because you really can't do anything about it," Huskies senior captain Jack Ahcan said. "You're sad that the season ended, but it ended so abruptly ... you don't know how to react."
Flying out, bus back
The team and most of its staff flew out to Michigan on Wednesday. The team flew to Detroit and then took a bus to Kalamazoo. The team had its equipment and the rest of its staff leave on a bus the same day.
"We're pretty lucky because we don't normally do that," Larson said of the bus. "We wanted to do it for playoffs to make the travel a little bit easier. We could have been stuck here with no bus home and trying to change flights that were booked for Monday. We're pretty fortunate to have the bus here to jump on it and get out of here."
It is about a 10-hour bus trip from Kalamazoo to St. Cloud and Larson and Ahcan were contacted for this story while they were on the bus home. The more than 620-mile drive back gives the Huskies a lot of time to think about an opportunity they did not get.
On Wednesday, the NCHC announced that the quarterfinals series would take place but attendance will be restricted to players, coaches, event and team staff, credentialed media and players' family members
"The dominoes kept falling so fast and everything spiraled so quickly," Larson said. "When we left St. Cloud, we had no idea we'd be leaving on a bus right now. We were hearing — worst-case scenario — we'd be playing in front of no fans. We were preparing like we would for any other trip and, to be honest, we were kind of excited because we thought that maybe that takes away from Western's home ice advantage a little bit.
"We almost thought it might be a blessing in disguise. Obviously, it turned out not to be."
The five seniors on the team are Ahcan, forwards Nick and Jack Poehling, forward Jake Wahlin and defenseman Clark Kuster. Ahcan said that the team will have another meeting when it gets back to St. Cloud.
"We didn't really want to have a long and emotional meeting and talk with everybody until we got back to St. Cloud," Ahcan said. "We had a few guys say some words in the locker room. But we're going to wait for everything to calm down and get out of this shocking situation to wrap our heads around it."
Despite the disappointment of the season ending, Larson said he understands the decision to cancel the postseason.
"All you want this time of year is a chance and it's certainly disappointing that we don't get that chance," he said. "But I do understand why they're doing it. I totally understand and support why they're making this decision."
St. Cloud State finishes its season with a 13-15-6 record.