During the past two North American Hockey League seasons, Carter Hottmann never gave his weeknight activities a second thought.
Maybe he and his Janesville Jets teammates would head out for a bite to eat at a local restaurant. Or he would leave his host family’s house and head to another that was housing his best friend on the team to watch some NHL or play a video game.
Now in his third season with the Jets, Hottmann can no longer even consider making the drive across town.
Consider that life as a junior hockey player during a pandemic.
“You’ve kind of got to just stay put. You get to know your roommates real well,” said Hottmann, the Jets’ team captain. “It’s a lot different. You used to go over to other billet family houses every night to hang out with all your buddies.
“Now you can’t do that. We’ve had the opportunity to have team bonding events outside where we social distance when it was a little bit warmer. That helped us get through some of that and get to know guys better.”
Under normal circumstances, the Jets would be about halfway through their 60-game regular season.
But because the start of the season was delayed and then the Midwest Division paused for most of December, the Jets have played just 11 games as they get set to host the Minnesota Wilderness on Friday and Saturday night at the Janesville Ice Arena.
Hottmann, who has scored five goals and assisted on one while playing in all 11 games, said he and his teammates were fortunate that they at least got four exhibition games in during the division’s pause.
“We have a great leadership group and ownership group that allowed us the opportunity to play when other teams weren’t,” Hottmann said. “I thought the guys handled it really well, having strict rules and regulations to follow.
“It felt as normal as it was going to get.”
The Jets have played five games over the past two weekends in their return to NAHL action. They lost three games to Fairbanks and then split a two-game set this past weekend with Kenai River.
“It was kind of a wakeup call, getting back and playing a couple strong teams,” Hottmann said. “Guys fight a little harder when it means something. We got humbled the first weekend, but we’re on the upward path going into these next couple weeks and are very excited.”
For Hottmann, it has certainly been an interesting year to be a captain.
As a third-year player, he is looked at as a leader by his young teammates, but also by a first-year head coach in Parker Burgess. All while attempting to help keep things on track during COVID-19.
“You’ve got a lot more eyes on you this year, especially since it’s a young group,” Hottmann said. “You’ve got to make sure you’re doing everything the right way.
“We’re really fortunate to have Coach Parker and Coach Lennie (Childs) as our two coaches. They’ve made it a very smooth transition for the older guys who have been here previous years. They’ve instilled a culture that we’re still working on currently.”
Next on the agenda for the Jets, Hottmann said, is putting together a full weekend while playing at their highest level.
“In the few games we’ve had, we’ve had a really good Friday night and just a very average Saturday night,” Hottmann said. “So our main goal right now is just working on consistency.
“It’s still very early. We’re still learning, even me, how to do things. I’m very excited for this team, because I think we can be really successful in the long run.”