Photo: Belmont High Head Ice Hockey Coach Fred Allard
In the locker room after a thrilling come-from-behind 3-2 victory over St. John’s (Shrewsbury) in the Division 1 North finals last Monday, Belmont High Head Coach Fred Allard ended his postgame talk to the players proclaiming “Practice tomorrow at 3!”
“What that meant was our season is still going on and we still get to be together,” Allard said in an empty White Field House on Thursday afternoon, March 12, with the North trophy and title banner on a nearby table.
It also signified the team had punched its ticket to the TD Garden this Sunday to play for the program’s first ever state championship title.
But the the season-long goal of just having the opportunity of skating to the Belmont student section with a state championship trophy in hand would end with an email.
Two hour previous, after hard practice at the “Skip”, the starkness of the outside world entered the hockey sphere when, due to the growing threat of a global pandemic, the MIAA announced it had cancelled the Division 1 state finals against Walpole.
The consolation for the Marauders was being declared co-champions with the Rebels. But it wasn’t much solace for the Belmont players to share a title that they couldn’t play for.
“We had just gotten off the ice so everyone was in the room,” said Allard. The squad’s reaction to the announcement was heartbreaking.
“These guys were more crushed than past teams who lost to St. John’s Prep four years ago and to Waltham (losing in overtime in the North semifinals in 2018). And they were just announced as co champs of the state!” said Allard. “That’s how all in they were because it’s such a special experience.”
“It was emotional and they were devastated. We talked our way through it. We shared some memories, we reminisced on what we accomplished and hopefully the healing process of the initial pain is starting to wear off.”
As late as Thursday morning, Allard still believed the team would be on a bus Sunday heading to the Garden in Boston’s North End.
“I was thinking we got practice on Friday and Saturday and hopefully the dust will settle and we’ll get this [game] in,” he said.
On Tuesday, the powers that be were hell bent on playing the six state finals on Sunday, but all that changed Wednesday when the Coronavirus was accelerating through all segments of society including sports. In just a day, professional sports leagues announced the cancellation or suspension of their seasons.
“That’s when the [MIAA] were obviously becoming more concerned for the safety of the kids, which was the right thing,” said Allard.
By early Thursday afternoon, the NCAA cancelled their winter championships including the entire “March Madness” basketball tournament, the Boston Marathon was looking for an autumn date to the run the race and states were prohibiting large gatherings.
“Our hope was that the worse case would be playing the finals at [six] separate sites and not just at the Garden,” Allard said.
“The kids worked so hard to get to this point. They just wanted to play.”