Socially Distant Diaries: Sam Isbell

“Instead of doing normal things [during quarantine] ... I decided to get two puppies.” Such is life for the Mercyhurst alum Sam Isbell and her partner Jill.

As far as quarantines go, Mercyhurst alum Sam Isbell considers herself pretty lucky.

After making the regional training hub roster for the PWHPA’s Montréal chapter, she’s split her time between her hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont., and Montréal, where she lives with her partner Jill and their two French bulldogs, Pepper and Griffin.

Laughing, Isbell tells The Ice Garden that, while most people might have spent their time in lockdown binging Netflix shows or “baking 100 cookies a week” (her words, not ours), she and her partner adopted two puppies.

“They’re a handful, but they keep us on our toes,” she says of Pepper and Griffin, whose social media presence is already better than that of most of their peers. “Like most pandemic puppies, they have a bit of separation anxiety because I’m home most of the day. They’ve definitely helped us keep our sanity throughout this experience!”

The two dogs — and their adorable TikToks — aren’t the only things in Isbell’s life to come about as a product of the pandemic.

When COVID-19 first started to shut down daily life in the U.S. and Canada, Isbell was a senior at Mercyhurst and had to finish up her season and her classes — and graduate college — completely virtually. Her schedule, even in those last few months, was pretty straightforward, consisting of classes, practice, and Monday nights spent watching The Bachelor with her roommates.

Now, most of her days are spent working during the day, with training on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at Centre 21.02, the Montréal hub’s designated facility. While the workouts and healthy lifestyle may have stayed the same, Isbell was recently certified as a personal trainer and launched her own health and fitness Instagram page to keep herself and others motivated during the trying times of the pandemic — a decision that wasn’t the easiest to make.

“I was super scared initially to start my health/fitness page,” she says. “I was feeling a little lost after graduating because I had always had a trainer/workout program to guide me and suddenly I was on my own. It’s almost like an identity crisis after coming out of college sports because that was your whole life for four years.”

On the account, Isbell shares workout routines, her favorite healthy recipes — including some absolutely drool-worthy yogurt bowls — and quotes, sayings, and tips and tricks to maintain a healthy and productive lifestyle.

“I became obsessed with feeling good and learning things from myself. So I wanted to take what I’ve learned and help other people do the same,” Isbell explains.

Life as a professional athlete is a lot different than life as a college athlete, and that disparity is only heightened by the pandemic. Playing college hockey meant, for the majority of her tenure as a Laker, rigorous training and a full season’s slate of games that culminated in a CHA Championship for two of Isbell’s four seasons at Mercyhurst.

In contrast, the PWHPA has had a relatively quiet start to the season, especially for the three Canadian regional training hubs. While a group of American all-stars headed down to Tampa to compete against the USPHL, the majority of the players competing with Calgary, Toronto, and Montréal’s chapters haven’t played any games beyond intrasquad scrimmages.

“It’s a big change going from such a fast-paced [college hockey] schedule to doing nothing for a long, long time,” laments Isbell. “Thankfully we have [Centre 21.02] here in Montréal, so we are fortunate enough to be practicing, but there’s nothing like competing in a real game.”

Coming up at the end of February and beginning of March, the PWHPA is partnering with two NHL teams to host the first two stops of the 2021 Secret Dream Gap Tour. Both tour stops will be restricted to players from the Minnesota and New Hampshire training hubs, meaning it’ll still be a while before any of the Canadians get the opportunity to compete.

PWHPA, Rangers partner for first Secret Dream Gap Tour game in 2021
PWHPA announces Secret Dream Gap Tour stop in Chicago

Like for many people, though, quarantining hasn’t always been an easy ride for Isbell. Even for a self-professed homebody like herself, she says she misses the social aspect of her life and hanging out with her friends.

“The hardest part for me was not being able to do things I normally do on a day-to-day basis, like going to the gym, going to work, or even just seeing friends/family,” she says. “What I miss the most from my pre-quarantine life is probably just being able to go out without a mask and sit at a restaurant with friends.”

That being said, when we asked her what she’d change about her experiences during the pandemic, Isbell kept it short and honest.

“I don’t think I would change anything. No regrets!”