Improvement in the Offseason


Grace Wirka

From left to right, Omaha’s Nolan Sullivan, Tristian Keck and Dean Stewart. Photo by Stephanie Veloso.

Six months ago, the entire world stopped. Wedding dates were postponed, airports were empty, sporting events were canceled and college students all across the country were heading home a few months early. UNO was able to finish their regular season before the world stopped, but just as they were about to dive headfirst into the NCHC playoffs the plug was pulled, and their season was over.

At first, like everyone else, reality didn’t settle in right away. The Mavericks were already in Denver getting ready to start their playoff run when the news came of first postponing the season, and then eventually the cancellation of their season. It took some time for the news to settle in. “I didn’t know what to think right away, it was delayed, and then the news sunk in,” Nolan Sullivan says reflecting on the day when they got the news. For him, it wasn’t until they were back here in Omaha at Baxter putting their gear away.

“It was shocking more than anything, it was surprising,” Kirby Proctor shares. Josh Boyer felt the same way, sharing the same feelings as both Kirby and Nolan. To go from being dialed into a playoff season to riding seven hours home on a bus trying to process everything was a big change. For Josh, like Nolan, reality had hit him towards the end of the bus ride. Until then it hadn’t fully crossed his mind that it was the last bus ride with those seniors, with that 2019-2020 team. The weight of what was going on fell upon their shoulders as they arrived back home at Baxter and put their gear away for the last time that season.

Settling into the new reality is easier said than done. “It’s something we’re still getting used to. Still an adaptation, doing what’s required to do,” Kirby comments regarding to adjusting to the new reality. Josh, like many others, found himself with a lot of free time now that classes were all online. He resided up in Alaska during quarantine where the restrictions weren’t as tight, and once the weather was nicer, he spent lots of time hiking, being with his family, just trying to fill the time. Nolan, once he returned home to Minnesota, had to settle into the adjustment of being back home like the other two. It was the little things for him, getting the groceries for his parents so that they didn’t have to or running the errands and sticking around the same small group of people, limiting contact with others as much as possible.

Thanks to modern-day technology it’s a lot easier to stay in touch with teammates now than it would have been ten years ago. All three Mavericks touched on how their team zoom meetings were huge. Facetime and team group chats were a big help in staying connected while all separated from one another. For the guys who were in the same classes, that also helped them stay connected. “The bad days were when you went a while without talking to other people. The good days were when you were involved and had a chance to talk to teammates, something that always lifted spirits,” Kirby shares while discussing the good and bad days of quarantine.

“Bad days revolved around the fact that I wasn’t able to be on the ice,” Josh adds along with not being able to talk to teammates. “Good days came from having those workouts, being connected with the team. Going from working out every day with them to nothing, you go stir crazy.” The past few months have shown us all just how important it is to stay connected and how our connections and relationships with other people can affect our mental health.

“Learning how to refresh and make sure you’re doing well mentally before physically and prioritizing the mental health, making sure you were okay off the ice,” Nolan shares in regard to dealing with the good and bad days of quarantine. Everyone has had days where they didn’t want to get out of bed and face the chaos of the new reality we were living in, but every day these three Mavericks got out of bed and got to work. For Kirby and Nolan, a big part of what got them out of bed was their Christian faith and beliefs. For Nolan, he was reminded of what his true identity was in. For him, it isn’t hockey, but his faith. He was reminded of how he can be a helper in this time of need and crisis.

“More than anything my faith, that there is going to be a tomorrow and that God has a plan,” Kirby shares, reminding us all that life goes on, and that tomorrow is always a new day filled with new possibilities. Kirby reminds us that all of this creates strength and character. That amid all this change and chaos we can continue to find the motivation to improve and work towards creating a better version of ourselves each day.

Through it all, the good days and the bad days, these three Mavericks took to the challenge and continued to improve each day. They took the free time that was given to them and used it to their advantage. Self-reflection was a big thing for these three Mavericks during this time. Kirby, Josh, and Nolan all shared how much it helped being able to go back and watch the film from their games and take a look at what they needed to focus on improving. All three of them also had high praise for the coaching staff, making sure to note how thankful they were for Coach Lewis and all the extra work he put into sending them workouts that they could do at home with their limited resources. Along with the workouts that Coach Lewis sent, all the guys worked with skills coaches/trainers on their own growing each day. Not only were the guys physically improving and preparing for the upcoming season, but mentally Kirby and Nolan both set aside time for reading. Nolan also listened to some podcasts and focused on growing his leadership skills too.

As always, the light at the end of the tunnel eventually came, and it was announced that students would be returning to campus this fall with COVID policies and procedures in place. There is only one word to explain the feelings that these three Mavericks felt when they heard the news. Excitement. As Josh stated, “Being able to be back with the team is so much fun. You realize how much you take it for granted. The news was pure joy.” Kirby echoed Josh’s words sharing how Omaha is becoming a second home to him and how nice it is to be able to come back and getting back into a routine here surrounded by your teammates.

Just as Kirby, Josh, and Nolan were looking back at their freshman seasons a few months ago they’re now looking back on quarantine and seeing how far they’ve come since all this has started.  “It will be interesting to see who took advantage and made those jumps or hasn’t,” Nolan comments when reflecting on the last few months, “The coaches provided the resources. It was up to us to waste the time or take the resources.”

“Mentally having that time to realize you took it for granted, realizing that sometimes you could’ve done more. It brought more motivation, remembering those times in quarantine of that hopelessness of not being able to be at the rink, it just gives you motivation every day,” Josh Boyer shares, reflecting on the impact that the last few months have had on him and his outlook for the upcoming season.

It’s important to look back on the last few months and see how far we have all come, not just in the sense of improving your ability to play hockey, but also working on the outside variables that affect the game on the ice. “I think it was a blessing in disguise. It was a great time to get to know yourself,” Kirby reflects on his time in quarantine. These three Mavericks took to the challenges and despite everything going on they still took hold and worked to better themselves for their own goals, and for the team as a whole.