The first game of the season at the D-III level in the East was played on Saturday where Babson beat Castleton 6-0 to open a sprint-like 13-game schedule over the next six weeks.
While the vast majority of conferences and teams had already made the decision not to play in the 2020-21 campaign, Babson and several other schools set out to find a way to play this most unusual season. The result is an abbreviated schedule that hopefully will play out fully with an immense focus on safety during the current pandemic.
“I am very happy for the kids,” said head coach Jamie Rice. “I think it is great for hockey, great for the kids and especially great for the seniors. The administration has been very supportive, and it really comes down to what you are willing to do vs. wanting to do to make playing games possible. We started in a micro-bubble with five kids at a time on the ice, using three different locker rooms, testing three times a week, wearing masks on and off the ice – even in the showers after practice. The kids have been willing to do all of these things and a lot more for the chance to play.”
As for the hockey itself, the coach was pleased with his team’s attention to the three core principles the Beavers adhere to in their game. The focus on defending well, transitioning quickly, and playing with energy were all present in the shutout win.
“It was surreal and if I was a video guy, I am sure there are things I would have thought were sloppy in a video review of the game,” noted Rice. “There were just the two teams, four referees, four members of the rink crew, a videographer and a handful of undressed players in the rink so the players really needed to create their own energy and excitement about playing. I was surprised how quickly the game moved without delays during stoppages – we played in under two hours and there were only three penalties for each team.”
For many of the players there has always been the difficulty in seeing play outside the bubble for the professional leagues (NHL, NBA, and NFL) along with collegiate hockey (Hockey East) at the D1 level in New England. Youth hockey has been playing during the pandemic as well with the exception of a couple of state mandated shutdowns, so the willingness to play has been a constant for the players who have been willing to sacrifice on many things for the opportunity to play.
“I think the rink used to be a refuge every day,” said Rice. “Now with all we need to do to protect each other from the virus, it is not that refuge anymore because the kids are constantly reminded of what they have to do to stay safe and protect each other. If one of us goes down now to the virus we all go down so the players are aware of the needed precautions and we are constantly reminding them so we can hopefully play as many of the scheduled games as possible.”
Prior to Saturday’s game, several of the players saw limited practice time to potential exposure to the virus. Among the players impacted was All-American goaltender Brad Arvanitis. That opened the door for sophomore Nolan Hildebrand to start his first game since November of 2019 at New England College. Hildebrand stopped all 25 shots he faced to earn the shutout win on Saturday and that feel-good story was not lost on his coach.
“We love each of our goalies here,” stated Rice. “With a limited amount of practice time I didn’t think it would be fair to but Brad into a starting role and candidly, Nolan had been outstanding throughout our practices. He hadn’t started a game in over a year and gave up a tough goal in the loss at NEC, so it was great to see him play well and pick up the win on Saturday. It was a big relief just to play and now we want to make sure we can do it again on Friday this week – it is truly just a focus on one game at a time.”
This weekend the Beavers will play a home-and-home series with Anna Maria College who had their first weekend series with Becker cancelled due to a COVID outbreak on the Hawks’ roster.
“My good friend Matt Noone, who coaches the baseball team here at Babson, has come up with the line we all live by,” said Rice. “Stay positive, test negative. That’s our new daily mantra for a season that we hope will play out as we desire.”