Nothing is more poignant than the swirling odor of dirty socks, sweat and hard work. No sound is more distinct than the slap of hard rubber on wood or a blade slicing through ice.
It happens where both the American and Canadian flags hang on the wall. It happens when hockey season returns. It happens now.
“Keep moving!” yelled Coach Brendan O’Halloran midway through the Springfield College Club Ice Hockey practice Thursday, Oct. 22.
Five minutes from campus, at Smead Arena, the players passed and played the puck all over the ice, taking shots and making blocks as they prepped for that Sunday’s (Oct. 25) game against Quinnipiac University.
During that game, goals were scored by forwards Kevin Coyle, Charlie Murphy, AJ Massaro and defensemen Daniel Chicoine and Nate Farrington. The hard work paid off as the team came home with a 6-5 win and the season opener they were hoping for.
The practice started with warm-up laps and stretches where the players shared quite a few laughs and a quick huddle in the middle of the rink. On queue they lined up in opposite corners ready and focused.
They began to take turns passing the puck and skating to the net rocketing solid rubber towards the goalies. At the front of each net the two masked, brave souls shifted side to side reaching everywhere possible to make saves.
There was more than rubber skimming over the slick surface, however; there was passion and fire, too.
“Hard laps! Hard laps! Let’s go!” rang from Head Coach George Johnson, followed by the players circling the ice at a speed that was reaching the point of defying friction.
No complaints, no groans, just rapid tenacity and lots of spraying snow.
Johnson then split the team onto either side of the center line and had them perform plays to continue to perfect their attacking and defensive strategies. Positions were mapped out, tested and shifted until each player had the chance to put in his time.
As several quick scrimmages commenced, sticks smacked against boards in celebration when teammates pushed the puck behind the goal line or goalies cradled flying black cylinders in their gloves or pads.
After an hour of swinging hockey sticks and speedy maneuvers, the men were dripping with adrenaline and motivation as the training concluded.
For seniors Paul Hanson and Massaro, practice finished on a spectacular note.
The coaches announced that they would respectively be named captain and assistant captain for this season. The team responded with an uproar of cheers. The two forwards are expected to lead the team in victorious fashion through their supportive leadership and by forming a family with their comrades, not just a well-oiled unit of wings, centers, defensemen and goaltenders.
Last year the team grabbed the regular season championship spot for the first time in history and went on to the Colonial Conference finals where they fell to Norwich University in a 3-1 loss.
This year Johnson, O’Halloran and second assistant coach Craig DiFranco believe they can claim that title, and others, with the exciting potential that has joined the team.
“We’re looking to improve from last year,” comments Johnson. “Work on improving the younger players. We lost a few first linemen last year so we really want to work with the younger players.”
Many of the incoming players have demonstrated their passion for the game and their dedication to the team every time they set a skate on the ice. The skill levels themselves have great potential for every player as well, but the coaches also know that success in the game of hockey feeds on more than just skill.
“We want them to build camaraderie on and off the ice” said O’Halloran, and based on that Thursday night practice, the men are doing just that.
Everything from goofing around to helping out with rides, the players show chemistry whether they’re laced up or kicking back. Any sports fan knows that togetherness is what can make or break a team and this team seems to have that under their belts.
Johnson identifies this devotion as the team’s greatest strength.
“These guys love spending time together,” he says.
With 23 players on the roster, it can be difficult and time consuming to achieve a tight community among the players, but they’ve clicked smoothly as it is a mutual understanding on the team that they are a group of guys who are seeking enjoyable memories and some good ol’ hockey.
The team also has a strong foundation of coaches guiding them through the season. With nothing but constructive criticism, positive encouragement and friendliness radiating from the three men, the players are pushed to the best of their abilities.
The healthy mix of intensity and light-heartedness at practices comes from both the team members and their leaders. And again, any sports fan is well aware that the chemistry between the coaches and their players is equally as important as that of the teammates themselves.
The team competes in the Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association (NECHA) with a 14-18 game schedule that runs through mid-February. As the rink is a mere one and a half miles from campus, students are always encouraged to come support their masked and padded peers, make some memories, and snap a few pictures for the team to share on their various social media sites.
Springfield College is a campus filled with compassion and ambition, so it comes as no surprise that their ice hockey team falls nothing short of the same values.
Take the time Saturday, Oct. 31 or anytime during the season to check out the team in action. Just be prepared for the adrenaline from the ice to spread across the stands in a wave of fast-paced excitement and cheers.
For more information on the Springfield College Club Ice Hockey team visit their website www.springfield.edu/scpuck and follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the handle @scpuck.