FISHERS, INDIANA — Adjusting to the idea of staying away from people is difficult at best.
Now imagine playing a sport not known for a lot of social distancing, even in non-pandemic times.
In the case of Brighton High School student Tyler Samson, his hockey career was able to move forward in spite of coronavirus.
“My efforts to play hockey with COVID haven’t really changed too much. My freedom is limited to the rink and where I am staying and being able to go to Mass on the weekends,” Samson said. “With home games, they feel normal, except for wearing a mask and having to wash my hands everywhere I go.”
The routine for road games changed.
“Unlike last year, where I was able to go in and out of rinks freely at any time, this year I am able to go into rinks 15 minutes before games, I occasionally have to get dressed outside for games and my pregame warm-up has to be outside too,” Samson said.
Bus trips are 10 hours or more between games. In one instance, Samson’s team finished a six-hour bus ride to a game in St. Louis. Just before the game started, the team returned to Indiana because of a potential contact with a team representative who tested positive.
In November, Samson’s team played just one game in a showcase tournament because a teammate wasn’t feeling well. That forced the squad to return home. Soon after, the team instituted strict rules so that the season could continue.
Samson steers clear of his teammates, except for practices, workouts and games.
“I try to limit as much time with them as I can so I can stay as safe as possible. In the locker room and on road trips, I sit by the same teammates and they are my roommates every time I am on the road, too,” Samson said. “There haven’t really been any news rules added because of COVID. But the time that my team and I are allowed to go into the rink has been reduced to 15 to 30 minutes before the game, rather than going in and out of the rink freely.”
Samson hasn’t reached a point where he got mad at the situation.
“Although it has been tough numerous times,” he said. “I try to keep a positive outlook on everything, and I try to tell myself that I am not the only hockey player right now doing this. In order to keep playing the sport I love, I have to make some sacrifices to do that, especially during this time.”
His season continues. James Mullins, the coach of Samson’s team, Indy Jr. Fuel 18U AAA, played with current Colorado Avalanche star Nathan McKinnon at Shattuck St. Mary’s School in Minnesota.
The team is in the prep division of the 12-year-old North American Prospects Hockey League. Its website says it sent more than 120 players on to the North American Hockey League for the 2020-2021 season. Fifty-five of them had contracts.
Samson’s squad played in Cleveland in February and was planning to head to Dallas for the North American Prospects Hockey League tournament.
“I got through that phase by just slowing down time and just getting through one day at a time. If I just worry about the next day, I can worry about how I can be a better student and a better hockey player that day and not look too much into the future,” Samson said.
Samson said the ongoing pandemic made him a better player and a better person, too.
“It gives me new ways and new opportunities to become a better player. It has thrown some obstacles in my way by not having every rink open or gyms, so I have to find my own ways to get better and work harder when I do get that limited amount of ice and gym time,” he said. ”This has made me a better person by just allowing me to do the right thing by staying home and only going out when needed.”
Samson wants to play college hockey next year, though he’s not sure where. There’s even been another side benefit to playing hockey through a pandemic, and it deals with education.
“Before Brighton High School came out with the idea that there was going to be online school for this school year, I already committed to playing out here in Indiana,” Samson said. “But one of my goals for the coming year was to graduate with my classmates at BHS. Because of the online school option, I was able to fulfill that and go to school in Brighton while being able to play hockey out here in Indiana.”