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College hockey players throughout the country went to bed Wednesday night believing their conference tournaments would be played, just without fans in attendance. By Friday afternoon, some of them had to deal with the reality that their college careers were over.

"I'm still at a loss for words. I don't even know how to react to it," said Tommy Muck, a senior defenseman and captain for Bemidji State. "… I understand why they've got to do it, but it still leaves a little wrench in your stomach."

When the NCAA announced Thursday that it was canceling the remainder of winter sports championships and all spring sports because of the coronavirus pandemic, it hit Minnesota and neighboring North Dakota hard. Gone is the NCAA Frozen Four in Detroit, and with it a chance for area teams to make history.

Minnesota Duluth, the two-time defending men's national champion, is ranked No. 4 in the country and had a shot at a three-peat, a feat accomplished only by Michigan from 1951-53. Minnesota State Mankato, ranked No. 2, has a senior-laden team with a 31-5-2 record. The Mavericks likely would have been a No. 1 regional seed. Bemidji State, 14-3-2 since the calendar flipped to January, was in position to qualify for the tournament. North Dakota, ranked No. 1 for much of the season, was regular-season champion of the rugged NCHC and had high hopes to hang a ninth NCAA championship banner.

In addition, the Gophers women team, the NCAA runner-up last year, had its Saturday quarterfinal against Ohio State canceled, denying the program a chance to compete for an eighth national title.

As men's conferences began canceling tournaments on Thursday morning, the landscape began to shift. By Thursday afternoon, the NCAA pulled the plug.

Disappointment, uncertainty and sadness were among the emotions players and coaches began to experience.

"I feel bad for all of our players, especially our seniors," Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. "Now there's not a ton of closure to it. … I still don't know how to deal with it. It's just a weird situation. It just happened so fast."

Added St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson, whose Huskies were to play in the NCHC quarterfinals at Western Michigan: "It is disappointing to have the tournament canceled, but we fully understand the need to take precautions."

For Sandelin's Bulldogs, Thursday's developments signaled the end of the college careers of such standout seniors as goalie Hunter Shepard and defenseman Nick Wolff, the team's captains.

"We were joking in practice, telling the rink guy to play some good music," Sandelin said. "We turn around, and the next thing you know, [the NCHC tournament] is done and a few hours later, the season is done. It's a tough thing for everybody."