The Online Beacon

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Student News Site of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

The Online Beacon

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Old Traditions and a New Legacy: MCLA Hockey Returns to the Ice for First Season in 20 Years

The MCLA Men’s Hockey team preparing to make substitutions during a game at UMass Dartmouth (via MCLA Athletics).

In 2003, MCLA made the tough decision to end the Men’s Hockey program due to a state budget cut and nearly $2 million dollars in repairs needed at the college’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial Skating Rink, according to USCHO. For 20 years since, the team had continued living on in spirit for those in both the MCLA and North Adams community by sharing stories of how much they enjoyed the experience and continuing to hope that one day, Trailblazer hockey would make its return.

It would take 20 years, but the dreams and wishes of the community would come true. After making the announcement early in 2022, MCLA would have a team for the first time since the shutdown as they made their long-awaited return during the current 2023-24 season.

With the program starting back up, 25 new faces would be welcomed to the MCLA community, with all but two of them coming off multiple seasons of playing in the junior hockey circuit. Despite coming from all over the country, the one common goal for the team was to not only win but to continue representing the legacy left before them and leave the program better than they found it, and the rallying support from the community has helped them to accomplish that feat.

“It’s definitely special to be a part of this team,” said defenseman Christian Nawrocki ‘27. “We want to carry on the legacy of MCLA hockey and leave this program better than we found it. The fan and community support has been unreal, it gets the boys going seeing everyone so excited for the games and we feed off of that and it gives us a jump.”

After spending a few weeks getting acclimated to MCLA at the beginning of the semester, the team would begin their preseason, working on not only fundamentals and developing the style of play the team wanted but also developing team chemistry that they can take with them both on and off the ice. For defenseman Matt Castillo ‘26, it certainly was a challenge at first, but eventually, the time spent together perfecting their craft and understanding each other would eventually pay off come the regular season.

“That was definitely one of the more difficult parts that we had to overcome,” he said. “Developing chemistry isn’t easy to do with all new teammates. It’s something that mainly comes with time together and game experience. In the preseason, we did a lot of work on timing drills, trying to understand what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are.”

 “We’re a close-knit team off the ice, so I do think that helped with our on-ice chemistry. We spend a lot of time with each other so that was a great way to understand your teammate’s thought process and their game. We can talk through situations and work on them during practice,” he continued.

Putting the group together and leading the way is Head Coach Jeremiah Ketts. While this is his first time being a head coach for a program, Ketts brings valuable experience to the program after a stellar career at Johnson and Wales University and even a professional career playing for the Reading Royals of the ECHL who were at the time an affiliate with the Boston Bruins. After serving as the top assistant for the UMass Dartmouth program, MCLA knew he was the right man for the job.

All of the players have already taken a strong liking to Ketts, with some even claiming him as the best coach they have ever had.

“Coach Ketts has been an incredible coach and leader for us this season,” said Nawrocki. “Personally, he’s the best coach I’ve ever played for. He knows how to get the most out of us and we would all go through a brick wall for him and each other.”

All of the hard work and dedication the team put into each other and perfecting their craft would come to fruition on opening night against Fitchburg State. The crowd certainly showed out, with 274 in attendance, and while the score ended in a 2-2 tie, good things looked to be coming the team’s way.

The MCLA Men’s Hockey players on the ice celebrating the first goal scored on the season, with defenseman Connor Nagy ’26 collecting the honor (via MCLA Athletics).

At the conclusion of the semester, the team stands at a 2-8-1 record, as they start to prepare for MASCAC play in the new year. Additionally, many players have stepped up and are putting up remarkable statistics. Forwards Addam Brunner ‘27 and Easton Moore ‘27 lead the way with seven total points, with Moore also leading the team in assists with six. Forward Cade Herrera ‘27 has the edge in goals with six, and goalie Mathew Gover ‘27 picking up 238 saves defending the net.

With 11 games under their belt, the team understands what strengths they need to keep up, and what weaknesses need to be improved on. For Forward Sean Neu ‘27, a no-quit attitude has allowed them to play hard from the dropping of the puck until the horn sounds, and continuing to work on the little things will help them in the long run.

“I think the main strength of our team is we never give up on any game no matter the score, and I think that’s really important for a team building an identity of a tough team to play against till the end of the game,” he said. “I think overall we just have to really focus on the minor details with things such as coming to practice every day dialed and ready to compete and just get better every day.”

“I think as long as we continue doing what we’re doing and focusing on the little things we will be happy with what the second half of the season has to bring us,” he continued.

The team is back in action in 2024, as they will return early from winter break to travel to Fitchburg State and face the Falcons. The game is set for Thursday, January 4, with the puck drop scheduled for 6:30 PM EST. 

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