The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, August 14, 2020

What will 2020-21 look like? — Interview with Zoe Hickel — Must-click links

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What will the 2020-21 season look like?

Happy Friday subscribers!

I am dizzy with excitement given all the WNBA games I get to watch in one week. Additionally, seeing the greater hockey community enjoy live games has also been exciting.

It has also been misleading.

The United States is far from “in the clear” on the coronavirus front. Sports are far from back to normal and newsrooms and athletic departments across the country are waiting to see what the future holds.

Most days, I am uncomfortable with the amount of money is going into “bubble” situations, especially when commissioners and analysts begin talking about positive COVID tests as a given. With over 5.1 million cases and 165k deaths in the United States, it’s concerning to hear the level of comfort the sports world seems to have with athletes and staff contracting coronavirus. Whether the assumption is that those in the sports world won’t be severely impacted or that they’ll have access to immediate treatment, I’m uneasy either way.

That said, I have enjoyed returning to more “regular” sports coverage, despite what folks on the Internet think.

It’s uncomfortable to know so many communities – like mine here in East Harlem – have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. These discussions happen all the time at the intersect of sports and community and my opinions on these very real issues change daily, hourly even.

Now, add the fact that women in sports often are expected to tolerate shortcuts and being underfunded and I’m a hot mess. Additionally, there are still major concerns for mental health. Student-athletes are under constant pressure physically and emotionally. In the most normal of circumstances, that is a lot to juggle.

The bright spots are that the NWSL managed to host the Challenge Cup with no positive tests and to-date the WNBA has operated with no positive tests inside the ‘wubble’. For more on this, check out Power Plays by former The IX Tennis contributor Lindsay Gibbs.

The Big Ten announced they would suspend their fall season literally minutes before I interviewed our Five at The IX guest. They join the PAC-12, BIG EAST, and Ivy League conferences in suspending fall sports for 2020. There are more updates coming from the NCAA daily.

So, we don’t know what the future holds, but we have links to keep you posted and an interview with Zoe Hickel to get her unique perspective. Hope you enjoy the rest of the newsletter.

Stay safe and remember to social distance!

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This Week in Women’s Hockey

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The Ice Garden has a useful NCAA Tracker to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of college hockey.

Holy Cross Athletics is adjusting to uncertain times.

The Ice Garden announced a new series, A Beginners Guide to Women’s Hockey. Anne Tokarski kicked things off with everything NWHL.

“We can’t bubble … it’s completely unrealistic to think that that type of situation could occur right now on college campuses,” WCHA commissioner Jennifer Flowers told the Wisconsin State Journal.

The NWHL named on this list of 5 Times Women In Sports Absolutely Crushed It In 2020.

The Top 25 Under 25 list continues with Kelly Pannek (#15) and Ronja Savolainen (#14).

Tweet of the Week

I love a strong crossover!

Five at The IX: Zoe Hickel, Ohio State University

Minnesota Duluth alumna Zoe Hickel makes her return to the WCHA as part of Nadine Muzerall’s OSU staff. We spoke to Hickel days before she left her Alaska home for Ohio. Hear what Hickel has to say about OSU, the outlook of the 2020-21 season, and more!

How the opportunity came about and what about Ohio State opportunity stood out as something that you wanted to take on?

I’ve always had a passion for the coaching side of things and I’ve really enjoyed doing it and having an online app … I was able to like work with a lot of different teams and from all over the world so knowing that I definitely had my eyes open to in just ear to the ground with some of my friends in the coaching world and was lucky enough to get a little tip I suppose about Ohio and was looking into some other options as well. But when I got talking with Coach Muzerall – I’ve had to wrap up at my camp here actually like eight years ago in Alaska – so many things on from both of our backgrounds had, you know, been going on since we had talked last so it was really fun catching up with her and we just clicked and kind of started from there, I suppose.

The IX spoke to Coach Muzerall earlier in the year and she emphasized having the right people on her staff and in the program overall. What about what she’s built at OSU do you think will be good for you as you take your first dive into coaching at the college level?

I feel so lucky to be under coach Mazar L and then again with Emily West and just getting to know their supporting staff since I’ve been hired on and been part of the meetings and a lot of Zoom calls right now, obviously. I’m still in Alaska. I’m headed there pretty soon. It has been really eye-opening and just really refreshing to be able to work with – I was coached by Shannon Miller too –and just some really strong women personalities. Her philosophy and what she expects out of her staff and her players and everyone around her. She, no doubt, is setting the bar herself. So it’s like there’s no excuse to not bring your best foot forward and but she has really taken me under her wing so far and I’ve learned so much and just this little time that I’ve been part of the staff.

I’m really excited. It’s pretty tricky with what our season will look like at this But I think that there’s some silver lining and that too and just to be able to learn so much, and maybe I won’t be recruiting as much for example and away from the team and I’ll be able to really learn a lot more from her and a lot more from the girls and to be able to get to know everyone a lot more this year. Maybe that’s what our bubble is gonna look like.

But it’s really impressive, the standard that she holds and what she and how she keeps everyone accountable around her and I think over the last years that she’s been at Ohio, it’s really sifted through some different types of people and personalities, but you can tell that the family that they have now everything that they’ve gone through to get to this point, it has been so rewarding for them and it really showed this past year to and winning the WCHA and the momentum that they had going into the national tournament. It’s a bummer to not know what could have happened or any of those things, but I think the girls are very motivated and there’s no doubt that there’s great leadership from the top and into the captains and throughout the team that everyone’s a really tight-knit group.

OSU women’s hockey has been able to utilize analytics in a very impressive way, especially considering stats are not always readily available on the women’s side of the game. What do you see value-added when it comes to using those types of analytics in accessing performance?

I think it’s a huge tool. There’s the human part of it too and I think a big a big part of what she brings … she knows that this is my first position. I did some volunteer coaching in Merrimack, but to be hired as an assistant coach I think she’s really looking for just the humanizing piece, the communication, and being able to connect the dots.

I’m gonna have to learn a lot about the tech side of the game. And that that piece too, and I have worked a little bit with, I think video is a huge tool. I love using video as a tool for myself as a player, but also as a coach.

You’re not very far removed from your playing days. I should officially ask, have you officially retired from your playing days?

Um, I guess I haven’t officially but I will – I’m excited to make this transition and because it’s hard to be like I’m retired I don’t think – I probably won’t ever make a retirement post if you will. But you know, to be involved with hockey, maybe that’s why it’s not so hard to feel that way about the game or to feel like I’m retired is because I get to be part of something like this, which is at the highest level and such a professional setting.

And it’s tough right now with all of our professional leagues. It’s like where’s the best place to play and – it’s really tough for any of the girls coming out of college or to know. The PWHPA has done a really good job and there’s all these different options and my sister and I decided to go to Sweden and experience that. I think that I would advise anyone to go overseas or in China or if you have the opportunity to do that. It’s huge. But I …

We will leave it there. I mean, I’m fine with you not officially being retired. That means that there’s still a chance.

No, my focus will definitely be with this team right now. But there’s beer league everywhere. We all end up there at the end of the day, anyway.

More with Zoe Hickel coming soon on Sports Talk with ELA and Founding 4 Podcast.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon  Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By Carly Grenfell, @Carlygren
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster

Written by Erica L. Ayala