The end of Josh Nodler's freshman season at Michigan State was far from ideal.
The Spartans season concluded on Mar. 8 when the team dropped a 3-0 decision to Michigan Wolverines in Game 2 of the Big Ten tournament's quarter-final series.
Shortly after, the NCAA cancelled any games and tournaments as well halting any team activities for the remainder of the academic year, ending seasons for teams across the United States.
But the Oak Park, Mich. product was able to find the positives in the situation, focusing on being as prepared as possible for his next oppportunity to suit up for games.
"With this extra time, you have more time to get in more workouts and more skating, as soon as the rinks opened back up, that you wouldn't have had - most of the time it's playoffs or the end of the season so Itook those few months and really worked on doing a lot of sprint work, a lot of leg strength stuff, and I think those extra few months or so really helped," the Flames' 2019 fifth-round pick noted.
Skating has been a major focus for Nodler throughout his first collegiate season and he hopes the work he's put in not only will benefit him when the NCAA kicks off its 2020-21 season but as he pushes for a roster spot on USA Hockey's 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship squad.
The forward spent the last week at the USA Hockey National Junior Team Evaluation Camp in Plymouth, Mich., competing against 22 other forwards looking to land a spot with the team for this year's tournament, which is being held in Edmonton from Dec. 25 and Jan. 5.
"This off-season was huge. I think the biggest thing I focused on and worked on was my explosiveness in my first three strides. I think that's something in my game that needs to improve and I tried to get stronger as well. Working on those first few quick strides and being able to get separation, especially on the rush, is something that I think will translate well at the next level and as I continue on at Michigan State.
"Part of the college game and moving on is the speed - the way that games never stop, you've always got to be moving your feet and you've always got to be ready for the next play. Having that mindset of always keeping your feet moving and being proactive instead of reactive is something that's important. It juxtaposes with my explosiveness and that will definitely help me to be proactive in plays, be ahead of the play and create separation.
"It's super exciting and a huge honour to be invited to this camp, to be able to compete for a spot on the World Juniors (roster) this year. I think one of the biggest things I've noticed so far is the level of compete that they expect from us. Coach talked about a gold-medal standard and that's something that we're obviously striving for - that gold medal in 2021. That compete level and that tenacity out there, especially in practice and in the game, it's huge."
Also in attendance at this year's camp and a member of the 2020 USA Hockey squad who finished fourth at last year's tournament was Flames 2019 seventh-round pick Dustin Wolf.
The netminder is coming off an incredible season with the Everett Silvertips in the WHL, going 34-10-2 with a 1.88 GAA and a .935 save percentage. Wolf led all WHL goaltenders in GAA, save percentage, shutouts (9), and was tied for the lead in wins. He was named the CHL Goaltender of the Year, USA Hockey's Dave Peterson Goaltender of the Year and the WHL Goaltender of the Year.
Video: A look back at Dustin Wolf's incredible '19-20 season
Like Nodler, Wolf's focus since the WHL season was cancelled has been on being as physically and mentally prepared as he can be for the upcoming season and this year's World Junior tournament. A native of Northern California, Wolf had the opportunity to train in Stockton during the off-season.
"I've taken positive steps in the game, not only on the ice but off. There was a ton of time with the season being cancelled ... I hit the gym pretty hard and I was able to spend three months down in Stockton with the goalie coach Thomas Speer so that was a great experience to be around him and also learn the ropes what needs to happen for me to play down there. I think, for me, just continuing to take major steps in my game and try to make things as simple as I can."
With a resume that includes an 88-31-6 all-time regular season record with a .934 save percentage (first all-time in Silvertips history) and 1.85 GAA (second all-time in WHL history), and 20 shutouts (seven shy of setting a new WHL record), the only 'knock' on Wolf's game has been his size. At 6-feet and 156-pounds, Wolf is on the smaller side of the modern goaltender but he has been inspired by Nashville's Juuse Saros.
The 5-foot-11 Finn has dressed for over 100 NHL games at the age of 25, posting a 2.56 GAA and a .918 save percentage with his 55-36-16 record.
"Just being able to see his success in the league and it shows that size isn't everything," Wolf said. "Based on your off-ice workouts, your leg strength, making things simple on the ice, remaining in control all the time - size doesn't mean everything."