Opinion: Two Teams You Can Count On

Ryan Thomas

If there is one sport that defines UMass Boston athletics, it’s ice hockey. Sure, soccer is pretty good, but Americans never could really fall in love with the sport. And we all love baseball, but no diamond on campus? Really? Basketball can be entertaining, but with Tony Barros two years removed from the men’s program and Laniece Langford just coming into her own for the women, the Clark Athletic Center gym just doesn’t have anything special right now.

In my two-plus years at UMass Boston, hockey has been the sport sustaining itself the most. The Lady Beacons have hosted a playoff game in four consecutive seasons. Even though the men haven’t sniffed home ice in the ECAC East playoffs since the turn of the century, last season’s upset win at Babson College in the playoffs was definitely a precursor of better things to come.

I clump these two programs together because their ringleaders, the faces behind the benches, aren’t just colleagues. They are friends. They talk with each other, share stories, and ask each other advice. In a way, they have no choice because their desks are only 10 feet apart, but Peter Belisle and Maura Crowell share a common goal: producing a championship-caliber team.

“I want to win a championship here,” Crowell said. “That’s my goal, to get us to a championship level program and to sustain that, not to have a one-and-done sort of season but to build a championship [team] and keep it going.” The fourth-year women’s coach has been building towards an ECAC Women’s East championship and feels as though her team is very close. The Lady Beacons have a high-powered offense, they have upgraded in net and they are a team that relies on discipline and hard work. Add to that only one graduating senior, and Crowell’s aspirations seem very close to reality.

Belisle’s road towards a sustainable program hasn’t been as smooth as Crowell’s. In his third year as Beacons head coach, the UConn product has a young team with tremendous ability but not very much experience at the college level, which has led to UMass Boston on the losing end of eight one-goal games this season. Crowell sees how close they are to becoming a regular among the top teams in the ECAC East. “If you turn those one-goal games into victories that’s… a great season that [Belisle] could have next year once these guys get a little more comfortable with each other, grow up a little bit and get that experience,” she said.

The men are positioned just as well as the women in terms of their roster. Belisle is losing only one senior – career backup goalie Chris Testa – and if he can keep his roster somewhat intact, the collection of players he has will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming seasons.

Crowell roots for the Belisle and the men to do well because she knows that a good hockey program is good for UMass Boston. “I know he’s working his butt off to get the program where he feels it should be, which is a championship team as well,” said Crowell. “We have that self-motivation and that drive to get to that level. That’s where we want to be and we’re not content where we are right now.”

What helps Crowell (and Belisle as well) sleep well at night is knowing the administration is behind them one hundred percent. “They [the administration] are at our games, I see them on the glass, cheering for us,” Crowell said, “and that goes a long way just to know that what I’m doing is good in their eyes and its very important for our players to have that support too.

“It means something when they’re playing for their university and not just their friends and family.”

I wish all of UMass Boston’s varsity sports success now and in the future when I’m gone. But if there are two programs that I know will succeed, it’s the hockey teams. Belisle and Crowell both know what it means to be a mentor; they know the sacrifices it takes to put a respectable, high-caliber product on the ice and I believe they have the blue-collar work ethic needed to succeed for years to come.

Ryan Thomas can be reached at [email protected]