In a usual year during mid-December, Elk River boys hockey coach Ben Gustafson and his team would be preparing for the Edina Holiday Classic, which is held every Dec. 19-21 at Braemar Ice Arena in Edina. However, 2020 hasn’t been a normal year.
Gustafson said that Saturday, Dec. 19-Monday, Dec. 21 would’ve been an exciting weekend if the 2020 Edina Holiday Classic wasn’t canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he’s looking forward to spending Christmas with his wife and his two children.
“This would be one of our more exciting weekends,” Gustafson said. “We always look forward to being part of the Edina Holiday Classic and playing some really good opponents in Edina, Eden Prairie and Grand Rapids. It’s always three good hockey games, something that our kids and our coaching staff look forward to.
“I know our kids are anxious to get back on the ice. We’re limited right now with what we can do with our kids. I’m looking forward to spending the holidays here with my wife and my two kids. I’m thankful for our health. I’ve got a 4-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son, so Christmas is going to be special.”
Unlike Gustafson, Elk River girls basketball head coach Jeremy Digiovanni said he doesn’t like having his team play in tournaments before and after Christmas.
“We haven’t had a ton of holiday traditions other than team gatherings that are usually hosted by the girls,” Digiovanni said. “I like to have our kids and our coaches have that majority of the break to be able to spend time with family. A lot of people end up traveling. [It’s taking] a break because usually, at this time in the season, we’re six to seven weeks into the season. It’s a nice natural break for us before the long part of the season starts in January.”
Elk River boys swimming head coach Denise Green said the Elks were planning to host their annual alumni meet on Monday, Dec. 28. That has been canceled. Green has been head coach of the Elk River boys swimming team since the 1984-85 season and is entering her 37th season as head coach.
“We usually have 20-30 alumni return for a fun competition with the current team members,” Green said. “We hope to be in the pool before the holidays. That is our wish at this moment.”
Many families in the United States have their own traditions around Christmas, from baking cookies to worshiping at church singing “Silent Night” in candlelight. During the holiday season, Digiovanni and his family take a trip to see the Bentleyville “Tour of Lights” in Duluth. He said that his family went to see the lights during District 728’s Thanksgiving break rather than in December because of COVID-19.
“This year, we’re keeping everything small,” he said. “We’re doing all of our celebrations just with immediate family. We aren’t going to the extended gatherings that we usually go to.”
Even though the hockey season is still on hold and won’t begin until early January, Gustafson said the pandemic has made him realize that there is more to life than a delayed start to the hockey season.
“During this pandemic, obviously we all have a lot of time on our hands right now, at least I do. It’s really slowed things down for me. I miss seeing my students in school. I miss seeing my hockey players and seeing them at the rink every day. It makes you realize what you’ve got and how important those kids are to you and hopefully, you’re a good influence on them, as we a coaches try to be…I’m anxious to get back onto the ice. It’s good to spend quality time with family as well.”