Hockey on Ice

How COVID-19 has put the sport on hold

By Susan Baldani

The sports industry, like many others, has been seriously impacted by the restrictions necessitated by COVID-19. From managers and players to fans and arena owners, the effect has been devastating, especially for a sport like hockey.

“It’s had a really dramatic effect on the business of hockey at every level, as it’s had with other sports,” says Costa Papista, sports manager and former semi-professional hockey player. “However, with some other sports, you can practice and train outdoors, but with hockey, not so much.

“You’re in an indoor arena, out on the ice, working really hard, and then you come off the ice after your 60 second shift and you’re sitting on the bench shoulder to shoulder with your teammates, breathing heavily and gasping for air. So, it seems logical that this airborne virus is bad luck for hockey.”

Hockey also doesn’t have the television revenue that some other sports do, he explains. It relies heavily on ticket sales and sponsorship and those two go hand-in-hand – if you’re not selling tickets and filling stadiums, the value to sponsors is greatly diminished.

At the minor professional level, says Papista, they’re looking at many different options. “Primarily, by having a shorter season and trying to hold off as long as possible to be able to get fans into the arenas and stadiums because that ticket revenue is so critical.”

A lot of the minor leagues have set start dates, then reset then, and then reset them again. Most semi-professional leagues and major junior leagues would have normally started in September, but they’ve been waiting to be able to at least be allowed a limited number of fans.

“No one wants to just cancel; they just want to wait until it’s safe and feasible,” says Papista. “But the way things have been going with case counts, it’s not really encouraging.

“It’s very difficult on so many levels because you got players that have a window of time where they have to be seen, recruited, and signed. So it’s tough on the players, tough on the families, and tough on the team owners. I also feel really bad for the arena owners and operators because they literally survive on ice rentals.”

Papista loves the sport, and has been playing since he was 4 years old. As a young man, he played on different local teams in his hometown of Grosse Pointe, and then in 1985, was drafted into the Ontario hockey league by the Sudbury Wolves. He’s also played for the London Knights, and for the University of New Brunswick in Canada while on a hockey scholarship. In addition, he’s competed internationally at the Hockey World Championships (1995) as a member of the Greek National Team.

“I like the speed of the game, and the physicality of the game as well,” he says. “I always loved being part of a team and I’ve been lucky to be a part of some close-knit teams. Some of those guys are my closest friends.”

Besides playing hockey, Papista always had an interest in the business side of sports as well. He has parlayed his experience and knowledge of the sport into management positions and has launched start-up franchises. He also currently plays on a local recreation team just for fun. So, he is seeing the sport struggle from many different angles.

Papista thinks the next six to 12 months are going to remain very challenging and difficult, but he does believe that hockey, and other sports, will rebound.

“If the vaccines from different companies are really effective, and once people get vaccinated and feel comfortable going out in public again, especially in large gatherings, I think all sports are going to recover,” he says.

“But I do think things are going to have to be done somewhat differently. It’s not going to be back to normal; it’s going to be back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Michigan.

Feeding Families

How a local restaurant is giving back to those in need

By Susan Baldani

Last spring, Calabria Pizzeria and Restaurant in Livingston marked its 40th anniversary. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, a big celebration just wasn’t possible. Instead, the family who owns the restaurant came up with a way to support and thank their loyal customers.  

“I created the Family Meal at the beginning of the pandemic in order for us to give back to customers,” says Gabriella Ottaiano, one of the general managers. “Plus, we wanted to do something special for our anniversary on April 1. It was only supposed to be for that day, but the demand was so crazy that we decided to continue it.”

It is a true family business: Gabriella is the daughter of Bernardino Ottaiano, who founded the restaurant along with his brother, Giuseppe (Joe) Ottaiano, Sr. His son, Giuseppe Ottaiano, Jr., is the other general manager.

For $39.99, customers who order the Family Meal get a half tray of chicken, a half tray of pasta, a half tray of salad, a whole pizza, a bottle of wine, and homemade Italian desserts. It’s enough food to feed a family of four to six people, says Gabriella.

Since the pandemic started, Calabria has been doing curbside pickup and no-contact delivery. Last fall, the family decided to feed struggling families at no cost.

“There are a lot of people in need who can’t make ends meet, and they’re literally losing their homes,” says Gabriella.

So, on Monday, November 16, she posted on Facebook, in part, “If you are not working/not getting a paycheck/struggling to make ends meet and run out of food or necessities…please don’t let yourself or your kids go to sleep with an empty stomach.”

All people had to do was send her a message at In less than a week, the restaurant had fed over 100 families. “No questions asked, we’ll feed your family,” she says. “We’ve been donating the Family Meal.”

In order to continue to help people in need, customers have been buying gift cards to be used to feed more families. “In the beginning, we were just doing it on our own. Many of the gift cards purchased were used to buy 80 families Thanksgiving dinner (a value of $125.00).” They will use the other gift cards once they can’t afford to donate the Family Meals any longer.

“People can call and purchase a gift card which will be used to feed needy people,” says Gabriella. “We keep track of everything and everyone gets a phone confirmation of their gift card.

“There’s a lot of people out there and we need help spreading the word. The more we share, the more we can help people. The response, so far, has been unbelievable.”

If you’re interested in purchasing and donating gift cards, or just getting a delicious meal, go to Calabria Pizzeria and Restaurant’s website at, or call 973-992-8496. Calabria can also be found on Instagram.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Coping During COVID

Managing our mental health

By Susan Baldani

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is having a negative effect on our mental health. Each day is filled with anxiety and stress over what the latest numbers will be and how our lives are going to be affected.

Here to help us navigate this new landscape and give us some tips on coping is Ellen Miller from Starting Point Therapy. Ellen, originally from Grosse Pointe, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in both Michigan and Illinois.

“It’s very rare that I have a session with somebody where COVID doesn’t come up because it’s impacting and touching people at all levels,” she says. “Everything that falls under the umbrella of things that can impact your mental health, COVID has a characteristic of that.”

Therefore, it’s important to be aware of how you’re dealing with uncertainty and stress. Some symptoms of depression, says Ellen, include self-isolation, negative talk, low motivation, and being hard pressed to find the positive in situations.

“It’s tricky, because with COVID, we’re saying to social distance, and not spend time with friends and family. Since staying distant is a symptom of depression, it’s hard to say what came first. For example, are you isolating because of COVID, or are you isolating because you’re feeling depressed or anxious. I would say that if people are feeling it’s hard to get through the day, hard to see the positives, and hard to be productive, it’s something to watch out for.

“However, I make it very clear to my clients that we want to set manageable expectations. We’re in a time of trauma and stress and anxiety, and limited human interactions, which are all things that get in the way of us being our best selves.”

Ellen says to manage expectations, but still be mindful of things that bring you joy, and things you can do that make you feel proud. If your form of self-care is to spend time with family and friends, continue to make that a priority, but in a way that keeps you safe and holds you accountable. So, if that means setting up Zoom meetings, or being able to safely socialize outside with masks, do it.

“If it’s fitness, and you can’t go to your favorite exercise classes, then try doing something like running or a different type of exercise that can still meet that need,” she says.

“Another really good tip for people to carry with them as they navigate COVID is that it’s not an either/or situation. It’s not ‘I’m great, everything is great, and I’m not affected’, or ‘Oh my gosh, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened.’ Yes, it is very challenging, but it’s both.”

Maybe, she says, it’s creating more opportunities for you to spend time with your family, or being grateful that you’re able to work. She wants people to hold on to the entire experience and not feel like they have to oscillate between both extremes, because that will also create a lot of stress.

Something that’s also prevalent, especially with younger people, says Ellen, is COVID guilt if they have either gotten it or have done something to put themselves or others at risk.

“I would say, when people feel guilt, is check your intentions,” she says. “Was your intention to hurt somebody, no, but could you hold yourself more accountable and not put yourself and others at risk, yes.

“It’s interesting to be in this field at this time because the world is a challenging place and mental health issues are definitely on the rise. But, it’s a great time for people to get connected with a mental health professional: it’s much easier to access care because of the availability of virtual sessions and insurance being great with coverage. From my point of view, as a clinician, holding sessions virtually has not made treatment less effective.”

So, don’t hesitate to reach our for support during these trying times.  Help is just a click or phone call away.

Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Michigan.