Club Hockey Teams Struggle with Lack of Rink Space

This+year%2C+Underhill+once+again+is+not+being+used+as+a+rink.

Katherine Merisotis/The Bates Student

This year, Underhill once again is not being used as a rink.

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic caused many aspects of life at Bates to shift dramatically. During the 2020-21 school year, students had to remain socially distant, pick up meals from Commons in cardboard boxes, and take some classes from their dorm rooms. One of the biggest adjustments students faced was getting tested three times a week last year, and two times a week this year, in Underhill Arena.

For many, especially for those who are not athletes, it was the first time they stepped foot in the building. For others, it was a painful reminder of the experiences they were missing out on.

Cecilia Gichner, the captain of the women’s club hockey team, sat down with senior players Laura Baginski and Julia Slayne to discuss the absence of the rink and the effect that it has had on the women’s team.

Access to the rink during the 2020-21 school year was impossible considering the logistics of student testing; which the team understood, according to Slayne. 

The team grew more disappointed when they realized the space also would not be able to be used for this school year. Gichner shared that she and the men’s team captains reached out to the administration at the end of last year; most students were getting vaccinated, and they wanted to let the group know that they were interested in practicing for the coming year.

“They said it was really up in the air,” she said. “Then this summer they said there was probably not going to be a rink because they needed the availability to put testing in.” 

She stated that this was before the college announced there would be weekly testing. The policy on testing over the summer was that students would not be expected to participate besides upon their arrival and in the following two weeks, according to an email from Vice President for Campus Life Josh McIntosh on July 27. On Sept. 10, McIntosh announced that students were mandated to be tested in Underhill twice a week.

Testing Location

While the members of the team understood the importance of testing, they felt frustrated by the center’s location. Though students got tested at Underhill last year, this year the setup is much more minimalized; the college only has a few tables rather than private cubicles for nasal swabbing.

“I think that’s one of our biggest things,” Baginski said. “It’s literally [a couple of] tables and it’s using up [such a] minimal amount of that space, it just seems like such a waste.”

The team believes that other spaces on campus, like the upstairs hallway and meeting rooms in Commons or Memorial Commons in Chase Hall, for example, could be better places to have testing.

“Last year we were totally patient with our space being used for the community because that’s what it was needed to do, but this year it doesn’t feel like it was needed, it felt like it was a forced excuse to not put the ice in,” Gichner said.

The team gets a lot of support and monetary donations from alumni and parents, which Gichner feels like are being wasted. 

“It’s so frustrating because it feels like we’re just wasting time not getting to play at full capacity when the college has resources to allow that to happen,” she said. “We’re not asking them to turn the library into a hockey rink, we’re just asking for the hockey rink to be used.”

Athletic Director Jason Fein told The Student that the rise of the Delta variant motivated the college to continue to test in Underhill.

“We knew that we might need to mobilize a full testing center on a day’s notice if cases were to spike, and the existing layout and technology that we put into converting Underhill last year [made] it the only true option,” he said. “Now that we are doing full testing again twice a week it’s even more apparent that this location is familiar to the students, is set up technology and flow wise, and working as best we could hope for.”

Despite believing the choice is warranted, Fein did say he “can’t wait until we can convert it from a COVID-19 time facility back to a true athletics one.”

For Slayne, walking into Underhill to get tested feels disappointing.

“Every time I walk into the testing center [and] the boards are still up, it’s so sad to walk in there and [think], this is supposed to be where our final season is and instead they’re wasting it to have these [few] tables that could be anywhere else,” she said.

Bates does not offer varsity hockey, so for many, playing on the club team is the only option they have. Baginski believes the team is treated differently because of their club status.

“I definitely think there’s kind of a divide between club sports and varsity sports,” she shared. “I just feel like because we’re technically a club sport [the administration believes] we can be discarded.”

The Colisée

Though the team is a club sport, it requires commitment: when in season, they practice four days a week and travel on the weekends, according to Gichner. This year, the team is practicing at the Colisée ice arena in Lewiston. Because they were informed of the decision to keep Underhill a testing center late, the team has to share their rink time at the arena with the men’s team. Both teams practice at either 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. or 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m.

“Nobody wants to come in at 6:00 a.m,” Slayne said. “It’s a school day, who wants to get up at like 5:00 a.m. and travel? It takes time to get all your stuff on. You have to get up at like 5:00, 5:30 a.m., get there, get all of your gear on if you want to actually be on the ice.”

Fein was hopeful about the Lewiston arena and cited its recent renovation.

“The good news is that the Colisée has been accommodating, has been refurbished, and looks like a good space to host our team,” he said.

Though the players acknowledge that the facility is nice, it is difficult for the teams given the practice times, lack of locker rooms to store their gear, and carpooling. Without a locker room of their own, it is hard to transport gear back and forth in people’s cars; it’s not only smelly, but too crowded. 

In addition, organizing rides to and from the rink is difficult, and expensive, for those who have cars. Gichner said it was “logistically, a horrible mess.”

According to Gichner, this is not the first time the team has not had access to the space. During the 2018-19 season, when the three seniors were first years, the men’s and women’s teams could only play at Underhill for the last two weeks of the season. There was a piece in the cooling system that was broken, so the ice could not be used until it was fixed.

Missed Opportunities

The seniors on the team have only played one season in Underhill, and the team was successful, beating the club teams at schools like Dartmouth and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In fact, during the 2019-20 season when they had the rink, the team won their championship and were considered the best out of the 40 teams in their club league.

Having a rink on campus with accessible practice time helps with turnout and team bonding, as well. Slayne shared that after every practice when they played at Underhill, their team ate dinner together. 

“The culture of the team was a big deal,” she said.

They also had a large turnout for their games. This year, Gichner said, because they’re playing at the Colisée, they’re worried that Bates fans won’t attend games.

“Having every game be an away game is kind of frustrating,” she said. “It’s a huge part of the team to have home games even at any skill level.”

Fein acknowledged that not having access to Underhill was difficult for the two hockey teams.

“The club leadership has been very understanding and amendable in the face of a tough situation, and those students deserve a lot of credit for it,” he said.

Though they cannot spend their senior year playing at Underhill like they would have hoped, the three seniors still have strong goals for the season.

“It is special because I do think that so many people are so passionate that they will show up and we will have a team,” Gichner reflected. “We’ll still travel on the weekends and do all this stuff despite the barriers the school puts in front of it. It’s exciting definitely to see that people love the sport so much that they’re willing to be so flexible and still try to play.”