Friars, Team USA coach Leaman eyes November college hockey start | Local Sports
PROVIDENCE — If all goes well according to health and safety guidelines, with no flare-ups of the COVID-19 pandemic on the campus of Providence College, Nate Leaman expects his Friars hockey team to be on the ice and playing Hockey East games by mid-November.
No official Friar schedule has been released as details for several hybrids are in the making —a Hockey East-only slate of games and a Hockey East slate against regional opponents, a schedule which might include a handful of “non-league” opponents, for PC that includes rival Brown University and the annual Mayors Cup game.
“We’re just awaiting the release of the league schedule,” Leaman said of the framework for a season and when it can commence. “There’s been one rendition that’s been passed across and there have been a couple of adjustments, but it’s looking like a November start and we can’t wait to get going.”
Leaman is in a bit of a bind, as are most of the members of the projected Team USA World Junior Team he is coaching. It is composed of college players, but some college coaches may be reluctant to release a player or two of stature from their roster for nearly a month to play in the 2021 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship Dec. 25, 2020, through Jan. 5, 2021, in Edmonton, Alberta.
Leaman has been informed by USA Hockey that the team and coaching staff will enter a “bubble” on Dec. 13 to meet protocol for quarantine guidelines.
“That’s our plan,” Leaman said from the Team USA camp in Michigan. “This camp is extremely important for evaluation. We’re only going to get four to six games of evaluation of guys who are in college. We let the players know that, we tried to put the players in position so that they know what exactly what the staff is looking for and that they were in a position to succeed.
“We’re making a lot of tough decisions,” added Leaman, who has been an assistant coach twice with the Team USA.World Juniors. “This is a level that a lot of guys haven’t played at. This level for a lot of guys is new, the speed, the skill, how quick guys can hit and get on you.There’s a lot less time and space here.”
Leaman’s relationships with NCAA college coaches in regard to selecting players for the Team USA roster and his conversations with them on having student-athletes made available for a lengthy period of time when many teams will be beginning their seasons has been an on-going process.
Leaman has players from four Hockey East member schools on the roster, from Yale and Harvard, as well as others from Notre Dame, Denver, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“The college coaches have been terrific,” Leaman said of any strife which may have been brewing. “USA Hockey and myself have been in constant communication with the college coaches just because we started the season with COVID and the tournament has expanded a bit, you have to enter the bubble a little bit earlier.
“We’re basically taking the college players a week earlier than normal, and my understanding is that Canada might be taking them three weeks earlier. The coaches understand that we’ve been put in a tough position. I certainly have tried to do everything I can. We had this camp to stay away from November.”
Generally, American college hockey teams will have played 10-12 games by mid-December. Then owing for mid-semester examinations and the winter break, the schedule is often reduced for the weeks just before Christmas until after the New Year.
“That puts a big strain on the colleges,” Leaman said of colleges having to release student-athletes in mid-December instead of at Christmas for the tournament. “If you’re trying out for Team Canada, I’m not sure if you’re going to play the first half of the season in college hockey. The U.S. Team is at least going to get two to three weekends in before the tournament begins.”
November is a key springboard to the college hockey season, “when teams are really gearing up,” Leaman said. “That’s when colleges are starting to play. We’re trying to make sure that we’re not taking away from the colleges.”
Friars assistant coach Ron Rolston, who coached the NHL’s Buffalo Sabes for two seasons, served as the head coach of two AHL teams and as an assistant at four colleges. Rolston and fellow assistant coach Joel Beal have undertaken command of the PC workouts on campus in Leaman’s absence.
“We’re on the ice and working,” Leaman said of he Friars’ regimen on a daily basis at PC’s rink Schneider Arena. “They’ve been doing an unbelievable job.
“It feels good to be back on the bench, to work with high level players, every time you do that, you’re going to take away little things here and there that can help your team,” Leaman added. “Just getting back to coaching again is getting you ahead of the curve. It’s huge because all of us have been away from behind the bench for seven months.
“In our first evaluation game, those first game mistakes come back to you as a coach and I think just being out here will put our Friars in a good position to have a good start to the season.”
Peter Gobis may be reached at 508-236-0375