WICHITA, Kan. (Mar. 19) - With all the news about the season being canceled, Jason Mals took some time to reflect on the last week. Enjoy!
I was sitting in my office yesterday morning thinking it was a game day. Typically, I would be going over game notes, visiting with Coach about the line-up, seeing if the other team had everything they needed as we approached puck drop. But it wasn't any normal game day in March.
Last week, we were in the middle our longest road trip left to close out the season. It was somewhat bittersweet to think it would be the last trip of the year. I enjoy going to visit each city, preparing for a road broadcast, reuniting with the visiting radio broadcaster in that city. Our broadcasting community in this league is terrific. We have a ton of support and all have become good friends even after seasons end.
I was excited to see Shane from Fort Wayne, but it wasn't a normal feel to the day. It was cloudy and murky out. The looming news was hanging over our heads and I think everyone on the team was just wanting to know what the plan was. Were we going to finish the trip? Was the season going to get postponed? Did we make the drive to Indiana for no reason? As I made my way over to the arena for pregame skate, the news started to get bigger about the virus. While we were in our own little bubble on the road, cities were closing down. Toledo had to play their game with no fans in the building that night. There was a ton of uncertainty as the players hit the ice.
The guys seemed to take it in stride. Each player acted as if there was nothing going on other than them preparing for a game that night that they desperately wanted to win. Head Coach Bruce Ramsay had his video cut and was getting ready to show the team what the game plan was.
Afterwards, we jumped on the bus and headed to Applebee's as a team so the players could re-fuel. We had three games in three different cities beginning on that Friday night. I sat with our trainer, Josh Elmer, and equipment manager, Frank Jury, and we briefly talked about COVID-19 and how that would affect us. I think we all had it on our minds that there was no way with the pandemic growing, that we would jump on that bus Friday afternoon and head to Toledo. We also found out about Rudy Gobert and the situation that led the NBA to shut down.
It didn't take long for the team to make the decision the next day to pack up and head home. After a brief morning skate, I ran into Frank in the lobby and was informed that we were leaving at 4 p.m. EST and to get our stuff together. There was a part of me that wanted it to be a joke. The team had 10 games left in the season and was playing well heading into the week. Two wins against Kansas City on the road. The other part of me was concerned for the health and well-being of everyone involved. Not only do we spend a ton of time together on the road on the bus, but the team is around each other in the hotel, the dressing room, on the bench and if one person caught It, the whole team would.
After that, everything happened so fast. The league made the decision to suspend the season and announced it that night. A few days later, the season was canceled. There wasn't a lot of time to comprehend the enormity of the situation. Players came in over the last few days to get their exit interviews and physicals and then left town. No finish to the season. No end of the season party. Just done.
Athletes never want to finish their seasons like the way this one just did. The team was in good spirits and had a positive attitude about keeping their playoff hopes alive. This group of players became very close and wanted to finish on a high note for themselves and the fans. It just really stinks for them that they can't get that opportunity.
I know that is a lot of uncertainty and change due to this. The Thunder organization is appreciative of our fans and how they have handled everything to this point. Even though we didn't get to finish this season, we are grateful for the memories created and look forward to having a strong core back from this past year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sticking with us. Sports are supposed to be an escape from reality and we look forward to the time when we can provide that to you again, #ThunderNation!