IT WAS NOT difficult for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey players to decide who should be their captain this season.
Senior forward Charlie Kelleher is a natural leader and was the obvious choice to captain the team, classmate and assistant captain Patrick Grasso said.
“I’m proud to have him as my captain, as all 28 of us are,” Grasso said. “He’s somebody that wears the UNH (jersey) with pride and he lives UNH every day.”
Kelleher, who served as an assistant captain as a junior last year, has been around the program for the past several seasons, dating to his older brother Tyler’s time as a Wildcat from 2013-17.
Mike Souza, who was an associate head coach to Dick Umile during Tyler’s final two seasons and Charlie’s first at UNH, before becoming head coach in 2018, expected the younger Kelleher would eventually wear the C.
“The Kellehers know what our program has always been about,” Souza said. “I think it was inevitable, if you will, that he would be named captain — he and Patrick — and they were. (Charlie has) done a great job.”
Kelleher, who said it was a special honor for him and his family that he was named captain, said he plans to lead both vocally and by example. The Longmeadow, Mass., resident said he also knows he has plenty of other leaders to lean on in addition to his assistant captains and classmates, Grasso, Benton Maass and Eric MacAdams.
“We have three other great assistant captains with great leadership qualities,” Kelleher said. “Even outside the captains, there’s a lot of guys that lead so it makes it easy.”
Through a challenging and uncertain offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Souza said Kelleher led the charge in ensuring players were staying safe so the Wildcats could compete this season.
“It’s one thing to be a leader when you’re here at the rink with us (the coaches) but the guys are, most of the time, not with us,” Souza said. “So that’s when leadership is really called for and Charlie and Patrick and Benton and Eric MacAdams have all done a tremendous job with that.”
Kelleher, who is UNH’s No. 2 returning scorer (six goals, 17 assists) behind Grasso (13 goals, 11 assists), will try to lead the Wildcats to a season-opening triumph over No. 2 ranked Boston College on Friday. UNH will then host the Eagles on Saturday, with both games starting at 7 p.m. and televised on NESN.
BC and UNH have prohibited attendance at their home games this season.
The Eagles were the top team in the Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll and the league’s regular-season champion last year after going 17-6-1 in league play and posting a 24-8-2 overall record.
UNH placed eighth in the 11-team league with a 9-12-3 record against Hockey East opponents and a 15-15-4 overall record.
Both the Hockey East and NCAA playoffs were canceled last year due to the pandemic.
The Wildcats went 1-1-1 against BC last season. UNH defeated the Eagles, 1-0 in overtime, at home on Nov. 1, 2019, when they were ranked No. 15 in the nation.
“BC is always such a big name in college hockey with all the success they’ve had over the years,” Kelleher said. “We’re really excited about our team this year and it’ll be a really good place to start. We’re happy we’re playing them first. We want to play against the best so we want to see where we’re at with that.”
Cancelations and reconsiderations
After initially canceling all its winter sports teams’ seasons last week due to the pandemic, Rochester Institute of Technology announced Tuesday that its men’s and women’s hockey teams will compete this season.
The school’s men’s and women’s hockey programs — its only two that compete at the Division I level — are members of the Atlantic Hockey Association and College Hockey America conferences, respectively. Both conferences have submitted their return-to-play safety plans to New York state for approval.
RIT’s other programs compete in the Division III Liberty League, which has canceled all winter sports this season.
The school said in a news release that no players or coaches within either hockey team have tested positive for COVID-19 and both will be tested three times per week in accordance with NCAA guidance. Schedules are still to be determined.
ECAC member Union College canceled its men’s and women’s team’s seasons on Tuesday, becoming the eighth team in the conference to do so. The conference is also home to each of the Ivy League schools, including Dartmouth, which will not play any winter sports this season.
ECAC member Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute canceled its men’s and women’s hockey teams’ season on Monday.
Currently, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Colgate and Quinnipiac are the only ECAC schools competing this winter.
Hockey East member Vermont has delayed the start of its hockey and basketball seasons until Dec. 18.
The men’s Beanpot tournament has been canceled.
UNH could be the only New Hampshire-based men’s and women’s hockey teams to compete this year.
The Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference canceled its winter season last Friday. The conference’s two-time defending men’s hockey champion, Plymouth State University, can schedule nonconference competition but the school has not made any decisions on doing so yet.
The New England Hockey Conference, which includes both New England College teams and the Plymouth State’s women’s team, voted in July to suspend this season’s conference schedule until the new year. Both of the Pilgrims’ teams played intrasquad scrimmages that were live-streamed on the athletic department’s YouTube channel on Nov. 7.
Neither Saint Anselm College nor Southern New Hampshire University has released announcements regarding the winter sports season.