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Penn State Men’s Hockey Reflects On Mental Effects Of COVID-19 Hiatus Ahead Of Postseason

When Penn State men’s hockey (9-11, 7-11 Big Ten) hit the ice last weekend after not playing a game for 34 days, there was clearly some rust left to shake off for the Nittany Lions.

While the team had some bright spots and started off both contests against Notre Dame strong, Guy Gadowsky’s team came undone in the middle of each game and couldn’t match the Fighting Irish.

“It definitely felt weird to be out there, but fun to be back out there – a lot of excitement, but definitely the legs and the lungs need a lot of recovery this week to be ready for next weekend,” Alex Limoges said.

While the physical effects of taking over a month off were clear, the mental challenges weren’t as easy to see.

The entire program was shut down for a time while it grappled with positive COVID-19 tests among Tier 1 personnel. Following the quarantine, players were only able to practice with those who they lived with.

It’s no secret being trapped inside of your apartment or dorm for any amount of time is tough mentally. Couple that with not being able to play the sport that takes up the vast majority of your time outside of class, and mentally, it gets a lot more difficult.

“I think the guys, not being able to do anything was probably very difficult physically… what we sometimes don’t really take into account is how they feel, athletes that are used to and look forward to training every day,” Gadowsky said. “When they’re basically locked in their dorms two weeks, how that can affect them… I think it was probably a lot harder on the players than we sometimes care to ask about.”

One silver lining to the situation was that anyone effected by COVID-19 had a lot of emotional support. Being able to reach out to a teammate or staff member who also had the virus and knowing they weren’t going through it alone helped a lot mentally.

“I can tell you our athletic trainer… is the MVP of this year, and he was these two weeks as well. He’s the best,” Gadowsky said. “He kept us extremely up to date on everything that’s going on and how guys are feeling, and of course we reached out as a staff just to see how guys are doing.”

While time away from the rink was difficult, not every member of the program saw the break negatively.

For goaltender Oskar Autio, time away from the rink wasn’t “necessarily a bad thing,” as it allowed him to reflect on some of his past games.

Of any position in hockey, goalies have to be some of the most mentally strong, and part of what goes into building that fortitude is having a solid routine. A psychology major himself, Autio is aware of how important the mental aspect of the game is to his success.

“For me, it’s been something that I’ve always worked on, and I know it’s always been really important,” Autio said. “A lot of the stuff is about your mindset, but also – stuff that I focus on is relaxation and just mental preparation before the games. Stuff like not putting too much pressure on yourself… it’s a lot of things, and it’s something I think I can keep getting better at, and I think every goalie works a lot on.

“I talk a lot with our sports psychologist, and I also talk a lot with my goalie coaches from both back home, and actually from Chicago where I played in juniors… just being able to reflect things off of them and just kind of learn from other people is pretty valuable,” Autio added.

After the hiatus, every member of the team looked forward to strap on their skates and hit the ice.

“Mentally, I think it’s been long overdue,” Limoges said. “Everybody just wants to play, and so it was a lot of excitement getting back last weekend. Still a lot of excitement right now in the locker room, I think. Obviously, it was a tough weekend, but we’re back and we’re training… I think right now a lot of the guys are very excited for another chance.”

Penn State faces Notre Dame for the fifth time in a row this Sunday, March 14 for the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. The puck is scheduled to drop at noon on the Big Ten Network.

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About the Author

Acacia Aster Broder

Acacia is a junior from Philadelphia majoring in digital and print journalism with a sports certificate. Although she considers herself a Philadelphian at heart, she is a Toronto and Seattle sports fan. Follow her on Twitter @acaciaaster or Instagram @acaciaastr for hockey takes and mediocre analysis.

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