Hockey Hasn’t Changed Much With COVID-19 Around

Lancers take the win over Wachusett in the Division III semifinals last year (2020), and celebrate the fact that they are headed to TD Garden for the Division III championship. COLE GUIDREY

Cheers and roars filled the hockey arena last year around this time when Longmeadow brought down the previous Division III state champions, Wachusett, in the Division III semifinal. The Lancers were headed back to TD Garden for the Div. III state championship, but were unfortunately stopped because of the outbreak of COVID-19. This year, the coronavirus still lingers around but high school hockey has been allowed to run, with a few exceptions. Instead of the loud cheers that were so common at hockey games, only the sound of skates and a couple of parents fill the large and lonely stadium. LHS hockey head coach, Coach Joyce, says “The atmosphere is definitely different. High school hockey typically draws a lot of fans especially for the bigger games, so the energy is also different.”

However, the lack of spectators doesn’t mean this has necessarily affected the way teams play. LHS senior, Cole Guidrey, says that “It isn’t harder to compete because of the lack of fans since once you’re on the ice, you still want to beat your opponent.” Luke McHugh, a senior and teammate of Guidrey, echoes his sentiments and says, “It definitely feels a bit different but we have gotten used to it over the course of the season.”

Another change that was introduced to hockey games was the “two man on a puck rule” as Coach Joyce puts it. Essentially, no more than two players can fight for a hockey puck at the same time. “We’ve been teaching these guys since they were 6 to go help your teammates when they’re fighting for a puck,” says Coach Joyce. “So we can feel that there is a pretty drastic change.”

The biggest challenge the players face is keeping their motivation up throughout the season. The lack of playoffs and championships at the end of the season weighs heavily on the spirits of many players, but Guidrey remains optimistic, stating “Our team mentality is that we want to be the best and at the top of the league so it doesn’t affect us too much.” McHugh has noticed a difference in motivation but shares a similar optimistic outlook as Guidrey, saying “We are just trying to get the most out of what we are given.” 

The biggest challenge the coaches face is the difference in talking to kids. Coach Joyce feels that he doesn’t get the opportunity to talk to them as much as in the past. Since social distancing is required both on and off the ice, it’s hard to develop the same kind of relationship coaches have with their players in a normal season. “This is definitely the hardest year I’ve had coaching in all my past years,” says Coach Joyce. “As a coach this year, it’s also tough to stay in that competitive attitude. These kids are basically playing a club sport at this point. It’s hard to draw that line between “Let’s go and have a good time” versus “let’s go compete and win something when there’s really nothing to win besides the 10-12 regular season games.”

However, despite all the challenges athletes and coaches face this year, they are just simply grateful for even having a season. Coach Joyce recognizes the effort Athletic Directors have put in to make the season as competitive as possible for players. “The schedule for games is changing almost weekly,” says Coach Joyce. “Normally we would just have a set schedule, but this year it’s very fluid since the AD’s just want the best experience for these kids.”

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