Boys’ hockey in Massachusetts is more than a month into the 2020-21 season, and teams have adjusted to the changes required to practice and play during the pandemic — wearing masks, socially distanced benches, limited scrums in the corners, and more spacing on faceoffs.
But not every game modification has come from the state or MIAA level, or even is used consistently across all games in Eastern Mass. With all rink locker rooms mandated closed, four leagues — Middlesex, Bay State Conference, Catholic Conference, and Tri-Valley League — have chosen to play a pair of 22½-minute halves rather than the traditional three 15-minute periods.
The theory behind the change, according to coaches whose teams are using the modified game clock, is to limit the amount of time spent off ice and in a larger group between periods.
“With no locker room, one intermission is definitely preferable,” said longtime Burlington coach Bob Conceison.
However, Conceison and other coaches say the lessened opportunity for interaction does make in-game adjustments tough.
“It is difficult to talk with the players at all without locker rooms,” said Wilmington’s Steve Scanlon, another veteran coach. “The kids are hard-wired for three periods, and the between-period breaks allow a team to regroup without distractions. That is impossible now.”
Hingham is playing this season in the Patriot League, which voted to stay with three 15-minute periods. Harbormen coach Tony Messina said that extra opportunity to give players a break, and also regroup as a team, has been helpful.
“In this environment with bench protocol, we don’t get a lot of opportunities to coach during the game,” said Messina, noting that the modifications allow for a limited number of players on the bench at one time.
The Dual County League also stuck with 15-minute periods. But with players constantly shuffling on and off the bench from other socially distanced areas, the DCL has made another adjustment — teams do not switch ends of the ice. In a normal three-period game, a team will defend the end closest to its bench in the first and third, which makes for a “long change” for lines in the second period.
“That is a challenge [with the bench protocols],” said Cambridge coach Mark Marfione, “so we thought to mitigate the frustration we wouldn’t have any team do a long change.”
The four Eastern Mass. leagues playing halves all are having teams defend the closest end of the ice throughout, although the Tri-Valley did play some early games with goalies farthest from the benches in the first 22:30.
Some leagues playing 15-minute periods also have chosen not to clean the ice after the first period, instead giving teams a shorter break in the bench area. Many coaches also have noticed a change in the ice conditions, whether late in a half or in the second period without a Zamboni break.
Team conditioning is another big challenge for coaches whose teams are using halves, asking players used to playing 15-minute periods to go an extra 7½.
“It’s a grind at the end of the game with the halves,” Westwood coach Matt Sebet said. “Teams with depth will definitely have an added advantage this season over a normal season.”
Coincidentally, 15-minute periods may soon be a thing of the past across the board. A rule change proposal is going through the MIAA process to allow for 17-minute periods, which would put Massachusetts in line with National Federation of High Schools rules.
Regardless, most coaches are looking forward to getting back to more normal game procedures after this pandemic-altered season.
“I didn’t even know about halves, but I’m not for it,” said Bishop Fenwick coach Jim Quinlan, whose team is playing periods in the Catholic Central League. “Hockey is played in three periods.”
Tyler Lovendale broke the school record for most points by a Carver boys’ hockey player while notching a hat trick in Wareham/Carver’s loss last Wednesday to Old Rochester/Fairhaven in the South Coast Conference. With his 116th career point, Lovendale broke the mark set by Pat Hurley in 2016.
“He’s been huge to our program. Just the type of kid, you wish had a whole team of him, on and off the ice,” said Wareham/Carver coach Rich Valatkievicz, who described Lovendale as a hard worker who never complains. “This year we put him as a center instead of wing, on the second line. He doesn’t complain, just does his job.”
Now at 118 points, Lovendale is the third player to score at least 100 from Carver, which started as a solo varsity program in 2002-03 and also was a co-op at one point with the now-closed Sacred Heart. He won’t be able to catch Wareham’s all-time leader, Pat Schultz (1994), who finished with 233 career points. Schultz had 172 goals, fourth all-time in Massachusetts, including 67 in 1992-93 (second most in one season).
Nonetheless, Valatkievicz recognized the significance for Lovendale in a senior season that had no guarantees.
“I’m just happy these kids are playing hockey,” he said. “I was just so happy he was able to have the opportunity to break that.”
▪ Pentucket’s Richie Hardy is another senior who stuck around for all four years, and his persistence and dedication paid off, as well. With an assist Saturday, Hardy’s 121th career point broke the mark set by Bill Bomba (2004).
▪ Three other players reached the 100-point milestone in the last week. Foxborough’s Kirk Leach was the first in last Wednesday’s win over Stoughton/Brockton, followed by Gloucester’s Jack Costanzo with his two-goal, two-assist performance Saturday to help beat Beverly. Then on Sunday, Abington’s John Polito matched that with two goals and two assists, including his century marker in a win over Cohasset.
Costanzo is only a junior, while Leach and Polito are seniors.
History was made late last night in a huge team W. #8 John Polito sniped for his 100th career pt. He thanked his teammates, parents, & coaches for the help, & said "he's not done our mission is the Cup". Congrats to him & his family! @AbingtonAD @ChrisMcDaniel88 @In_The_Slot pic.twitter.com/EBzAabjkhI— Abington Hockey (@abingtonhockey1) January 25, 2021
▪ The milestones weren’t restricted to those on the ice. Tewksbury coach Derek Doherty picked up his 250th career victory, 4-2, over Chelmsford on Saturday. In his 20th season, Doherty had led the Redmen to a pair of Division 2 North titles as well as the state championship in 2011.
Jim Clark can be reached at email@example.com.