The puck will finally drop on the 2020-2021 hockey season this Friday afternoon as the Boston College Women’s Hockey team travels to New Hampshire for a pair of games against the Wildcats to open the schedule. We’ve opened the season with a chat with Coach Crowley for a few years in a row now, but we’ve never had a season to look ahead to like this one. As you might expect, the focus of most of the interview is how COVID-19 has affected the preparations for the season’s delayed start.
BC Interruption: I think a lot of people are going to be interested in knowing how the Coronavirus has affected the program over the last few months. First off, how are practices different now than they were before the pandemic?
Head Coach Katie Crowley: Well, first of all, in a normal year, you’re on the ice for a few weeks before game time, and then once you get into your real season, you’re really only on for about two full weeks with your team without doing skill sessions. So it’s just been a lot longer this year with how much we can practice and how much work we can get in.
Like for the first little bit, we did a lot of skill stuff that sometimes you aren’t able to get in because it’s too rushed and you have to just hurry up and get ready for games. So I think it’s been kind of nice for us as coaches to be a little more relaxed with some of the things for a while, and then the last couple weeks we’ve been getting back into working together as a team.
BCI: Are there going to be any different in-game protocols that you’re aware of, like are players going to have to wear masks, or are the refs gonna have those electronic whistle some places are using, or anything like that that you know of?
HCKC: I don’t think the refs are going to use those whistles. We’re still waiting on the final word as to if we’re going to have to wear masks, and what that looks like. So we don’t know for sure.
BCI: Are there any added restrictions on the players in their day-to-day lives outside of practice to help mitigate their risk?
HCKC: Just being safe. I mean, we constantly talk about being safe, and what that looks like for our team. And, obviously, you know, at BC we’ve had our football team do such an unbelievable job of keeping their cases limited to none. They’ve done an amazing job showing us the way, in terms of making sure they’re wearing the masks all the time and making sure we’re adhering to the rules that we have to adhere to. And I think our team has really done, knock on wood, a good job so far.
It’s certainly challenging. I mean, the rules are different in college right now — you’re limited in how many people can be in your room, you’re limited in a lot of different aspects. It makes it a little bit more challenging, I’d say, for a normal college student, nevermind a student athlete. So I think our team has done a great job; I’m really happy with how they’ve handled themselves. They really want to play games this year, so I think they’re trying to do the best they can to stay safe.
BCI: Is there anything else that might be different this year that we might not expect that you guys go through every day, or are things for the most part more status quo than we might think?
HCKC: I mean, at the beginning, we were practicing in groups and not with the whole team, so that was a little bit different. It took a long time — actually, until just this past week — that we could have the whole team even in the locker room together. So you were having to practice in separate groups. And I credit our captains, they’ve done a great job, because we weren’t able to get our team together as a group all the time, or as much as you’d think that we would have. The captains have done a great job kind of keeping everybody together and keeping everybody on the same page. That was definitely something that was different leading off. Even with meetings, you’d meet with one half of the team, then you’d have another meeting with the other half of the team.
But right now I would say things are mostly the same-ish, with the exception of wearing masks and that sort of thing, with a few differences that nobody would really see anyways, like you can’t reuse a towel on the bench, those sort of things.
BCI: The NCAA granted players an extra year of eligibility due to the Coronavirus, but as we understand it, it won’t necessarily mean we’ve got rosters with five years of turnover — especially in the non-revenue sports. So how does the women’s hockey program expect to handle that additional eligibility, especially when you consider how it impacts the future freshmen?
HCKC: It’s going to be on a case by case basis and we’re going to kind of walk through that as we get closer to that situation being more impactful for us. This year we have two seniors, so we have to have that conversation with them. I’m not sure which way it’s going to go right now. And every team is different with how they’re going to handle it and what they’re going to do.
It obviously depends on what the player wants, too — what do they want to do after their senior year? What are they looking to do? So there’s lots of different options. It’s certainly going to be a challenging thing to navigate, especially with, like you said, roster sizes. I would say we’ll probably be bigger in the future than what we’ve been used to, but we’ll navigate that as we get a little bit closer to it and have conversations with those players. It definitely changes the way you have to do things as a coach and as a staff, but we’ll figure it out and try to make it work for everyone.
BCI: Off the ice, how has COVID-19 affected the coaching staff’s usual recruiting routine? Does it put more emphasis on kids reaching out with video? Or do you have to look more for streams of games with players in them that you have your eye on? How’s it different?
HCKC: I mean, you get some video, even pre-COVID, but obviously with COVID there’s been a lot more video, a lot more watching live streams of games. Like you said, that’s the only way you see new players or players that you want to look at right now, is by watching online. So that’s certainly been something that we’ve utilized more than ever, and, you know, I guess it’s nice that you don’t have to really leave home [laughs].
But there’s still nothing like seeing a hockey game in real life; I would still opt for being able to walk into a rink and watch a game. But thank goodness for technology, and that we’re able to still watch the players and keep recruiting while we’re in this crazy time.
BCI: Has the new rule prohibiting contact with recruits until junior year taken a little bit off your plate for the time being with some future classes partially filled, especially with regards to the Coronavirus making it more difficult to recruit anyway?
HCKC: Yeah, we’ve had some kids committed for a while that definitely eases it a little bit. But I feel bad; it’s not easy for anyone. You feel bad for the recruits, you feel bad for kids who are juniors and seniors who maybe aren’t committed somewhere yet, and you feel bad for the kids out there that thought they would be signing an NLI that maybe the plans have changed for right now. So it’s not easy for anyone, and hopefully everyone ends up finding a spot for themselves and hopefully it’s not too stressful on them.
BCI: A year ago we were talking about the loss of two Patty Kazmaier Award finalists to transfer, and it raised a lot of red flags to a lot of casual observers. This year, we bring *in* a major transfer in goaltender Abbey Levy from Minnesota State, and despite us having a rough year in wins and losses last season, everyone stuck around. Have you noticed a cultural change over the last year that everyone wanted to come back to the Heights despite that tough season?
HCKC: Yeah, we really like our group this year, from the goalies that we have to the D and the forwards, they’re working extremely hard. We’re a little bit of a different team than you saw last year, and the people who were here last year weren’t satisfied with that season. Everyone took that to heart a little bit and came back with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder to be better than that.
And I credit our leaders from in the spring, when everyone got sent home, those players had to jump right into that leadership position and really try to keep everyone on the same page through the summer and into the fall while away from campus. And they’ve done a great job with that. You’ll see that change; everyone’s really excited to get into games here and see what we have, ultimately, but there’s definitely been a good change for us.
This time off being away from each other and not being able to work out together in the spring in the summer, I think, has really opened their eyes to what’s important to them and how excited they are to be here at Boston College and fight for that name on the front of their jersey.
BCI: Along those same lines, you said the team has a different look this year, and that’s definitely true: We have a huge freshman class with eight rookies, plus we’ve got the huge transfer in Abbey Levy, plus we’ve got a tenth new face in goaltender Kelly Lavelle coming up from the club team. What kind of impact are you expecting all these new players to make?
HCKC: Everybody’s been very competitive and doing really well in practices, and it’s been exciting to see — whether it’s the newcomers or the older players — everybody’s pushing each other to be better. It’s hard to pick out just as a couple; they’ve all done just a tremendous job. The goalies all look great. Every class is pushing themselves and pushing each other. The freshman class will certainly have their impact on our team, and they’ve already started to do that. I’m excited to see how it works out in games and what that will look like as we keep moving forward.
BCI: With so many schools that have already opted out and how much uncertainty there is in the season as a whole, how would winning a conference or a national championship feel different than it would in a normal year?
HCKC: I mean, I would still say that it’s exciting to win any championship, that’s still certainly our goal here no matter what, whether we’re in a pandemic that we never thought we’d be in, or a regular kind of “normal” season. Your goal is to win a national championship. Obviously, our ultimate goal is to stay safe, to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy, and that they’re doing the right things. That takes precedence over anything. But if we’re able to get through the season, that’s our goal, to stay healthy and try to win a Hockey East championship and try to win a national championship.
And you’re right, it’s a crazy time; during this time, you literally *have* to take one day at a time and our team has done a great job with that. Things can change even in a matter of minutes. We’ve all seen it in the general public, and you see it within athletics, within our teams and whatnot, you see change on a day-to-day basis and you’ve got to be ready for that. You’ve got to be ready for that adversity and be willing to take it head on, and we work to try to figure it out. So we’re all trying to do that. But ultimately, we’re still trying to win that that Hockey East championship and a national championship.
Thanks to Coach Crowley for taking the time to sit down with us to us into hockey season. You can follow You can follow Coach Crowley and the BC Women’s Hockey team on Twitter to keep up with the program, and of course check in with BC Interruption for full coverage throughout the season.
The 2020-2021 season begins this Friday and Saturday with a pair of league games against New Hampshire on November 20th and 21st on NESN. Be sure to check back in this weekend for full coverage!