Jay Ness has never been big on summer scrimmages.
Ness’ Rochester John Marshall boys hockey players have traditionally been satisfied with beating up on one another while building some team chemistry during the annual summer practice sessions allowed by the Minnesota State High School League.
This summer has been different for the Rockets, though, just as it has for all high school sports teams across the state.
JM won’t play any scrimmages, but it’s also spent the first two weeks of its summer practice time not being able to battle physically in its own practice sessions. The bonding has been kept to a minimum, too.
“We’re making the best of a bad situation,” said Ness, who will begin his 10th season as the Rockets’ head coach this fall. “I’m thankful we’re able to at least get on the ice and skate. It’s better than nothing, but the limitations we have on us have restricted what we usually do in the summertime.”
With practices limited to two pods of 10 (one coach, nine players per pod) on the ice at once, the Rockets have had to divide their practice times by age groups. That means JM’s talented incoming class of freshmen and sophomores aren’t able to work with the Rockets’ veteran returning players.
“The thing we’re really missing is, we use this time in the summer to integrate the incoming sophomores and kids coming up from Bantams,” Ness said. “We have a good group coming in this year and we would’ve liked to get them integrated more with the seniors and juniors.
“When we get together in the fall -- hopefully -- and we’re able to have everyone on the ice, we’ll get them together then.”
High school athletes have been limited for most of the summer so far to non-contact drills, though that changed Wednesday, when indoor sports teams were able to begin scrimmaging. JM will use the remainder of its summer practices to work on player development and add some competitive drills to practices.
Players will continue to arrive at the rink fully dressed for practice. Workers at the Rochester Recreation Center have scheduled at least 30 minutes between ice times, and have closed the locker rooms. Players put on their skates, helmets and gloves on folding chairs that are sanitized in between each usage.
“The guys are just happy to be back on the ice,” Ness said. “We kind of explained the situation to them, what we can and can’t do. We’ve only been on the ice (five) times since June 15 (when practices were allowed to begin), and they’ve taken it in stride.”
LOURDES MAKING ADJUSTMENTS
Rochester Lourdes’ boys hockey players have a lot to adjust to this summer.
The Eagles not only are dealing with all of the limitations and restrictions that every team in Minnesota is dealing with, but they’re also adjusting to a new coaching staff.
Jeff True took over as head coach of the Eagles’ boys program in the spring after coaching the Lourdes girls for three seasons.
“We just finished our second week of summer practices,” True said late last week, “and we have a lot of kids out. I’d much rather have it that way -- a lot of participants and trying to keep within limitations of players on the ice as opposed to not having the participants.”
Like JM, Lourdes has divided its ice sessions into groups of upperclassmen (seniors/juniors) and younger players (sophomores, freshmen and eighth graders), as well as one session for PeeWees and Squirts players who play in the Rochester Youth Hockey Association and are in the Rochester Catholic Schools system.
True said the relaxing of some restrictions this week will make a big difference in what the Eagles can do in their practices.
“I’m pleasantly surprised at the interest we’ve had in summer ice,” he said. “It might be part of, we haven’t had a lot going on and the spring and summer hockey camps through USA Hockey haven’t been happening.
“We’ve found some extra ice time and are getting players into extra sessions if they want more ice time.”
True said the attitude and intensity the Lourdes players have brought to the ice has impressed him. The Eagles are coming off a winless season after advancing to the Section 1A championship game in 2019.
“The elephant in the room is, we didn’t win a game last year,” True said, “so the concern was, ‘what is there for the players to look forward to? Who’s going to stay, who’s going to leave?’ Everything I’ve seen so far has been very positive -- the boys’ attitude, the parents’ attitude, we’re ready to move forward and we want to build up the program again.
“Last season didn’t reflect their effort. They were in games with a lot of good teams and played a lot of close games. All of the boys who were on the team last year are back and our mindset is we’re moving forward.”