By Jerry York's count on Monday, his Boston College hockey team had already practiced 33 times since players arrived on campus.

That's more than enough, said the Hall of Fame coach.

"We've had an excellent camp, but players and coaches alike, are saying 'let's go. It's time to play,'" said York.

York and his players will finally get their chance — hopefully — when the Eagles are set to kick off the Hockey East schedule on Friday at Conte Forum in the first half of a home-and-home against New Hampshire.

Like everyone else, York is concerned about the coronavirus cases rising again just as his team readies for its first game action since March. And there are ominous signs on the horizon. The Ivy League has canceled all its winter sports — effectively scuttling this season's Beanpot with Harvard going dark — and in the last two days, Union and RPI became two more ECAC school to cancel winter programs.

But York is cautiously optimistic that Hockey East will be able to pull off some semblance of a season.

"Our football team has played through the situation around them and they're getting games in, so there's a path for us," said York. "I think our league and coaches understand that we've got to stay safe, follow protocols. We're going to take two buses this year to away games, we're tested three times a week and we're doing everything necessary to try and ward this thing off."

Hockey East has not experienced the same deleterious effects of the Covid-induced cancelations that has befallen ECAC, but the league has not been untouched. With the cases creeping up in Vermont, UVM has paused its winter sports until Dec. 18. Boston University was scheduled to play the Catamounts on Dec. 4-5, but that's been pushed off.

So this promises to be a season like no other. Who knows what the landscape will look like when the regular season is scheduled to end in March, but Northeastern coach Jim Madigan believes a champion will be crowned.

"On our head coaches call (on Monday), the theme that came out of that was 'Hey, we've got to be flexible.' Be ready to make decisions on the spur of the moment because if games get canceled because there's an outbreak, you may have to play someone on two or three days' notice," said Madigan. "And then as you go to March, we're excited that the NCAA tournament will continue. It was good when basketball announced that they're going to one site. We're not going to one site, but we're planning on having a tournament. We're still moving forward that this is going to be, not a normal season, but a season where we're going to have league games, league playoffs and an NCAA tournament."

As for the hockey itself, the Eagles find themselves in a familiar position — as the hunted. York's squad comes in as the top-ranked team in Hockey East and ranked second nationally by USCHO.com, behind only North Dakota.

"It's always a nice honor to receive and shows the respect around the country have for your program. But again, it's a paper poll," said York. "The biggest thing with us is, we're going to be good, no question, but we lost 12 lettermen from last year, so we've got some holes to fill. We brought in almost an equal number of players, Eleven players came in to balance it off. It's still tough to lose players like David Cotton, but our core of guys is really strong and they're healthy and have had a terrific camp."

The Eagles have only two seniors, but they have a strong core led by junior captain Marc McLaughlin, a strong two-way forward, and senior forward Logan Hutsko, who was better than a point-per-game last year (19-14-33 in 30 games).

One challenge the Eagles, aside from filling in the back end with a young defense corps, will face in this shortened season is losing a couple of their top players to the World Junior Championship. Forward Alex Newhook, the nation's top freshman last year, is in Alberta now for Canada's section camp and most likely won't be available to BC until the second week of January. Standout goalie Spencer Knight is also expected to be a member of the U.S. squad, though he'll be able to get a few games in before the Yanks depart next month.

"It's kind of a unique situation," said York. "For Alex, it's one of his goals to play in the world juniors and represent the country. I said 'Alex, follow your dream.' I'm not going to say you've got to stay here with us.' With our blessing he's gone there, but he'll be a great boost when he comes back, that's for sure."

NU freshman goalie Devon Levi is also fighting with four other goalies for a spot on the Canadian team.

Meanwhile, Hockey East teams dot the preseason top 20, including UMass-Amherst (7th), UMass-Lowell (11th), Providence (17th) and Northeastern (19th). Starting Friday, with fingers crossed, the teams will determine on the ice where they really belong.

"Our players are excited," said Madigan. "We just need some games to happen. They're more than ready to start playing. Just drop the puck. I know there's a lot of speculation because of the cases increasing and a lot of state restrictions. But at the end of the day, we'll let the university administrators and the politicians take care of that and we're just focusing on getting ready to play."

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