After nearly 22 accomplished years with Coach Tom LeBlond, including four consecutive conference regular season titles from 2006 to 2009, Bates’ men’s hockey team is eager to start their next chapter with new head coach Michael O’Brien.
O’Brien comes to Bates from Sacco, Maine, originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with experience coaching youth and prep school hockey. He coached the hockey team at North Yarmouth Academy and his last team was with the Elite U18 Midget Majors league.
“Ten years ago I sat down with one of my players to talk about his goals and he is the only kid that ever asked me what my goals were. I laughed and was like someday I would like to coach club hockey at the college level,” Coach O’Brien remembers. “A lot of doors got closed but out of the blue Bates more or less fell into my lap. Being able to coach this team is a gift and I am going to maximize this opportunity to the best of my ability.”
Bates’ men’s club ice hockey team competes in the American Conference of the Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association (NECHA), which is part of a larger regional league known as the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) and has seen tremendous success in the past ten years as a club program. Under Coach LeBlond, former men’s ice hockey coach, from 2006-2009 Bates won four consecutive NECHA Colonial Conference regular season titles and were playoff champions in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 and 2009, the Bobcats went further to win the championships, the only two times in team history.
After last year’s lull, with a record of 1-11, senior captains Sam Levin ’18 and Nick Barker ’18 aim to lead the 2018 team to the tremendous success that was achieved in the ’06-’09 golden years, while also keeping the sport fun and welcoming to all. As a club program, team involvement is open to all, regardless of experience. The program encompasses a 12 game schedule, mostly competing against other Maine schools, and the team holds practices six days a week at Bates’ very own hockey rink, otherwise known as Underhill Arena. Underhill Arena was completed in 1995, is in fantastic shape, and, fortunately, admission to all games is free to students and the general public.
“Our goal is to continue the legacy of the mid 2000s team and develop into a very serious program,” Barker explains. “I was on the varsity baseball team my first-year at Bates and I have definitely noticed that same level of commitment at the club level for the hockey team. We try to get the comradery as a team and focus on a lot of the same goals that a varsity sport focuses on.”
“As a club program you don’t have the recruiting tools that a varsity program has so you have to compensate,” Levin says. “Bates is a really small school and it is really easy to get connected. As a senior class we really want to put an emphasis on giving as much to the program as we can and that comes in a lot of different spheres from the effort you put onto the ice each day to crafting the team philosophy and getting the program back on par.”
Coach O’Brien is thrilled to start his Bates season working with a wide array of different levels of playing experiences and is impressed with the tremendous leadership of all members of the team. As of right now the team has 25 players and the goal is to travel all 25 players.
“There is nothing better for a coach than coming into a program that went 1-11 the year before. This team is governed by Bates and there is some oversight but ultimately everything that they do is up to them,” O’Brien says. “All the players are really excited to improve upon a measurable goal which is a record. You can just tell that years of being athletes from a variety of different sports has shaped them as natural leaders on the ice. This makes starting my coaching career that much easier here.”
Coach O’Brien, Levin, and Barker all agree that another goal for the men’s ice hockey team is to keep creating awareness of the program. They plan to do this by involving other Bates club programs such as the a cappella group “The Deansmen,” to sing the national anthem at home games.
“We could bring in people that are into filmmaking and can help us do some videoing or carrying out jobs such as announcing games, editing videos, or creating a YouTube channel where we can show our product to the world. We can’t get all of these jobs done as hockey players. We need to include other talents into our club because it just makes for a better community and gives those other clubs a bigger platform too,” O’Brien says.
Levin and Barker also hope to follow the great examples of captains from past seasons, establish an identity as a club sport, and to leave a positive impression for the future of the program.
“On a fundamental level it is important that your leadership is compact and solid. There can’t be any discord. Everybody is going to bring something different to the table and it is really about giving what you can and encouraging everyone to work hard and enjoy the experience,” Levin says.
“I think the best teams are the teams in which everybody is a leader, always moving forward, holding each other accountable, and being there for each other as a team,” Barker says. “One of the best captains that I ever had was a really quiet spoken individual that worked his tail off at every practice. Anywhere he went he was making sure that everybody was doing alright on and off the field and that is what I want to stress here as this program moves forward.”
The team’s season started November 4 with a win against St. Joseph’s College. Their next game will be November 11 at 7 p.m. against Central Maine Community College and their first home game will be December 1 against St. Joseph’s. Be sure to support, or even join, the hockey team’s first season with Coach O’Brien.
“We are always looking to reach out to the Bates community,” O’Brien says. “Whoever is interested in getting involved with any skill set they have. They are welcome with open arms and we can figure out what it is that you can do and become a part of us. We are now 25 and if it becomes 35 that would be awesome.”