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Lakers Hockey and the COVID Recovery

SUNY Oswego has been without sports for quite some time now. Most teams that represent the Oswego Lakers were told they could not compete this past Fall season and that includes their beloved hockey team.

Leading up to the 2020-2021 season there was hope that the Lakers were going to make an appearance in the Marano Campus Center Arena and be given the opportunity to once again take the ice to represent their school. Though when crunch time came around, the school and its athletic department did what was best. The Oswego Lakers season was canceled leaving returning players, newcomers, and seniors out to dry.

With the season just around the corner Coach Ed Gosek and his players were preparing for the potential season. They wanted to make sure that if they were granted a season, they would be ready to play.

“We were being realistic that if we could have any season at all, we would be very blessed and fortunate from that standpoint,” said head coach Ed Gosek. “We had our guys begin workouts and had high hopes that we would be able to continue. We would be grateful to have a season even if it were limited”.

The Marano Campus Center Arena shut down

When the team got the word that they were not going to have a season it was upsetting for everyone.

“When it all came to a screeching halt it was disappointing but certainly understandable. For the programs that were allowed to move on, it was frustrating very difficult for them,” said Gosek. “With all things considered, you try to move on a make the most of it”.

Coach Gosek was not the only upset party during this entire escapade, players were upset as well. For some, it was their last season, and for others they lost an entire season of eligibility.

“I think with the initial shock, we all saw it coming. We had a feeling that our season was going to be pulled at the end of last year when COVID first struck and the SUNYAC Final ended up being our last game,” said goaltender Steven Kozikoski. “When we headed into the summer, we were promised a season even though it might become shortened or have restrictions. It was said that we were going to have ten-man practices so with these changes we were still able to practice and have our season”.

Although the Lakers had their ten-man practices lined up and were prepared to follow any guidelines given to them, it was still not enough to maintain a good healthy season.

“Going into August everything looked good. We had our ten-man groups, and we were following the orders given to us,” said Kozikoski. “Then they cut is out from under us. They told us our season was over and that was the end of it”.

The season was cut when a spike occurred in positive COVID test results. The team was split up and they were not allowed to practice. This would have made it impossible for them to compete, let alone play any games. The Lakers would meet one time during October to discuss a potential nine-game schedule beginning in January.

“We received the schedule for a short season, which only allowed us nine games against a couple of teams,” said Kozikoski. “Although it was not ideal, now that we knew the outcome, it would have been a lot better that what we are currently doing”.

Two weeks later the entire season was canceled.

“Yeah, it sucks. Every time we thought it was alright, it was right back to something else. I felt like we were kept in the dark and we were not getting the whole story. I didn’t like that,” said Kozikoski.

Steven Kozikoski between the pipes while the defense attempts to remove the puck from the defensive zone

With Kozikoski going into his junior year it looked like he was going to be the Lakers number one goaltender. That is until their season was brought to an early finish. Koz had played in nine games previously and recorded the best save percentage and goals against average out of all the goalies so he was looking hopeful.  

“I was excited about it and really thrilled after my performances last season. Now I think it is going to be more of a battle for that starting position because of the other guys not leaving. I think it is going to make me work even harder to solidify that spot against two great goaltenders,” said Kozikoski. “I think I have a bit of an advantage for next season, but I think that advantage has diminished immensely. I think I am going to have to come into next season much like my freshman year and work extremely hard for my spot”.

Although Kozikoski lost a year and feels like he is going to have to work even harder for that spot, he still has some experience at the college level. Some other players were not fortunate enough to have those opportunities.

“I was definitely disappointed with the entire situation. Coming off my last year of juniors it was one of my favorite years of hockey because of how much I had developed over that season. I was ready to make that jump to the college level,” said freshman winger, Trent Grimshaw. “I was ready to experience the fans and that insane atmosphere the Oswego is known for, but I think it will just be that much better next season”.

When you talk about the younger guys losing parts of their hockey career, there are also players who do not get to experience their final year as a player. For the seniors this year, it was hard knowing that the previous season was their last time skating as a Laker.

“That was the most difficult part. Our younger guys knew it was not as big of a deal because they knew they would be able to play again,” said Gosek. “For our seniors, that was it. That was the end of the road for them. It was hard because you don’t get to play out your senior year and erase the hopes of potentially competing for a league or national championship. That’s the hardest part”.

Although it is sad that the seniors don’t get to experience their last game, there are some that have to put their recruited skills on hold.

With new recruits coming in every year and adjusting from the junior level to the college level of play, it can be difficult. The difficulty level increases and is even harder for someone when they consistently play and practice throughout their hockey career. Things may be a little harder when it is time for them to make that initial jump to college hockey.

“That is a question many coaches are trying to find an answer for. For those guys they lose a routine and repetitious discipline that a player experiences every day,” said Gosek. “We certainly hope they don’t lose a step in their game. We’re kind of in a holding pattern to see how things develop and hopefully there won’t be a big drop-off next season”.

Others believe skills and abilities can be like riding a bike, it’s just you just don’t forget.

“I don’t think I am going to lose my touch and I think it is the same for most guys,” said Grimshaw. “We’re all going to get the chance to skate together and train before our season, which will knock the rust off. I think we will be fine because we won’t have to experience that lag time before hopping into summer training. I think we’re all going to work hard and avoid that setback”.

Between players and coaches having different opinions on the future and what may or may not come, they all seem to share a similar feeling about one thing. Every single one of them is experiencing a life without hockey for the first time since they began playing.

“It’s kind of weird because next year is my last year and I am probably going to call it a career, but it is weird because of how it happened. You never think something like this would be the reason for losing a sport you’ve played every year of your life,” said Kozikoski. “I have actually been taking advantage of it. I have been able to focus more on school and being able to work more, but it just feels like there is something missing”.

For some it has been a while since they have missed out on hockey.

“Well, it has been 31 years since I haven’t gotten on the ice with the guys,” said Gosek. “They keep me young. They are energetic and enthusiastic and they’re fun to be around. Yes, I miss the practices and the games, but I miss being around the team and enjoying the company”.

Oswego scoring against Plattsburgh in the Whiteout game

As new experiences emerge like being without hockey for the first time in a long time or having to wait that extra year before you finally get to step onto the ice as a college athlete, people begin to think.

“For me and our program, it has made us realize that you shouldn’t take things for granted. Many times, you don’t realize how good you have it until it is taken away from you,” said Gosek. “COVID has had a toll on everyone. Whether someone had a loved one taken away, sports not being able to practice and play, or the comradery of your teammates. I think COVID has taught us a valuable lesson and that we need to appreciate what we have even if it is just the little things like hockey”.

“I’m very proud of my guys and the way they handled the situation. It is amazing how positive they have stayed when they could have very easily made excuses or got upset. They handled it maturely and the best they could while staying positive,” said Gosek. “I don’t know how many games we’ll win next year, but they have been a great group and I look forward to working with them on the ice next season”.

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