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UND-Omaha series postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak

No official date has been set for a makeup series yet.

Gardner Omaha.jpg
UND's Rhett Gardner (22) tries to put the puck past Omaha goalie Evan Weninger during Saturday's home hockey game at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

For the first time during the coronavirus pandemic, an outbreak among the UND men's hockey team will wipe out games.

This weekend's UND-Omaha series, which was scheduled for Friday and Saturday in Ralph Engelstad Arena, has been postponed due to a rising number of COVID-19 cases within the Fighting Hawks program.

The series will now be played Feb. 4-5 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

The series originally scheduled for that weekend — home against Colorado College — will be pushed back one week to Feb. 11-12, which was originally UND's bye week.

"In the last 24 hours, we were notified that we didn't meet the minimum requirements of a roster to play this weekend," UND coach Brad Berry said. "So, our plan is to get through this weekend and be healthy and ready for the following weekend against Western Michigan."

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The NCHC's standard to play is 15 skaters, two goaltenders, two coaching staff members and either one athletic training staff member or team doctor.

UND did not reveal the exact extent of its COVID-19 outbreak, but Berry praised the team's athletic training staff for their work this week.

"I can't say enough," Berry said. "I want to thank Mark Poolman, Tyler Wheeler, Steve Westereng and the crew here for staying on it. When you talk about student-athletes, the student part comes first with their health and wellness. Our group has done an unbelievable job of testing and trying to do the right thing as far as keeping everybody up to optimal care here. We're going to stay proactive on that. It's a situation where we're abiding by the rules and we're going to get through it."

Players who have tested positive are required to quarantine for five days.

"The guys that cannot partake in activities, they're going to have to stay away and do their thing to try to stay in the best shape possible," Berry said. "But the guys that are here are going to continue on, building what we can in our small group here with individual skills, team skills, structure and different things like that."

According to current NCAA guidelines, fully vaccinated players do not have to test for COVID-19 unless they are symptomatic. Considering UND's high vaccination rate, it is highly likely some players became symptomatic, sparking more widespread testing.

Beginning next week, players who have not received a booster vaccine — and are eligible to receive one — will be tested at least once per week. Those who have received a booster shot or who have tested positive within 90 days will not test unless they are symptomatic or ruled close contacts.

"The season has different things come up and we handle them head-on," Berry said. "We handle them as a group. We're looking forward to getting our group back in a few days and looking forward to get going again."

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After a relatively smooth first half of the season, the highly transmissible Omicron variant has been wreaking havoc with the second half.

Last weekend, two National Collegiate Hockey Conference series were postponed because of COVID-19 outbreaks. Minnesota Duluth had to postpone its series at St. Cloud State because of cases within the Bulldogs' program and Omaha had to postpone its series against Denver because of cases within the Mavericks' program.

Omaha was scheduled to begin its trip to North Dakota on Wednesday, but it was called off before the Mavericks started to travel.

Colorado College and St. Cloud State also had to call off their weekend series due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

"Currently with this Omicron virus, it's something bigger than everything else right now," Berry said. "You can do everything possible to stay safe, but it seems it is affecting everybody and it's at different stages."

UND's next series is scheduled for Jan. 21-22 at Western Michigan.

"Our policy is that we'll attempt to reschedule anything that has been postponed," NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton told the Herald earlier this week. "If, ultimately, we don't have the ability to make up games, we have the ability to render them 'no contest.'"

Berry said he's open to outside-the-box solutions to complete the schedule if more disruptions occur.

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"We just have to make sure we're open-minded," Berry said. "Not only our institution, but around the league, to maybe play some mid-week games or maybe play some games to get these made up. I know Josh Fenton is an unreal commissioner and he's got the best interest in mind of our players as well as the rest of the league. I'm sure there will be a way we can try to get these games in."

UND is currently leading the NCHC with 24 points — six ahead of second-place Western Michigan. The Fighting Hawks are searching for an unprecedented third-straight Penrose Cup as NCHC regular-season champions.

If there's an unequal number of games played, the standings will be decided by point percentage.

Last season, UND's COVID-19 outbreak happened in the early fall long before the team went to the NCHC Pod in December. It is believed that no UND players contracted COVID-19 during last season.

The Fighting Hawks did have a couple of schedule changes due to COVID-19 outbreaks on other teams during the second half of the 2020-21 season.

"In any situation, first of all, we're protecting the student-athletes," Berry said. "That's the major thing. I think everybody's got to be open-minded on what that looks like as far as making up games. If we can make them up, let's do it. At the end of the day, that's something that's in the commissioner's hands right now."

Related Topics: UND HOCKEYGF PM NEWSLETTER
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