Months of anticipation to get back on the ice and begin the 2020-21 high school ice hockey season came to a head for the Hillsborough High School ice hockey team on Jan. 15.
The Raiders had their prayers answered and were able to hit the ice at the Flemington Ice Arena for their first game of the season.
“It was nice to get on the ice and play our first game,” Hillsborough Ice Hockey Coach Christopher Tommins said. “The kids were very excited.”
The uncertainty surrounding the season because of the coronavirus pandemic was tough, Tommins said, for him and his Hillsborough squad.
As the start of the season kept being pushed back throughout the fall, Tommins and his assistant coaches kept telling the kids that they were going to have a season. They were going to have a chance to compete for a Skyland Conference championship.
Every player was “ready to go” on Jan. 4 when high school teams across the state were able to start preseason practices.
The team’s excitement continued to grow last week as the season opener against Bridgewater-Raritan Regional High School approached.
“The kids were very excited. You felt that all week in practice,” Tommins said. “They love high school hockey season. They waited a long time to get back on the ice.”
Hillsborough started its 2021 campaign with a bang, rolling to an 8-2 victory over Bridgewater-Raritan.
Senior Brock Forrest was the star in Hillsborough’s season opener, racking up a game-high four goals and dishing out three assists.
Junior Patrick Lewicki recorded a game-high four assists in the Hillsborough victory, while also finding the back of the net twice. Freshman Nolan Collinson also dished four assists for the Raiders.
Both junior Nathan Wolfe and freshman Alexander Orr banged in a Hillsborough goal. Wolfe also had three assists in the victory.
In Tommins’ eyes, his players played like an “APE” in the season opener. APE is the motto the team will go by this winter, standing for “attitude, preparation and effort.”
“They all were well prepared for that first game,” Tommins said. “We scored eight goals. They kid gave out maximum effort. That’s all I can ask for of them.”
This season will be unlike any other high school ice hockey season.
Players and coaches are adjusting to the COVID-19 protocols in place that include no locker room access, no fans in attendance, and making sure masks are being worn when off the ice and when on the bench at times.
The new producers have led to Tommins making some changes to his practice formats.
Tommins makes sure during practices that his players are six feet apart on the ice and has limited the amount of students who will attend each practice.
Out of the 33 kids on the roster, Tommins says he is allowing only a maximum of 25 players to practice each day.
From having to get dressed outside the rink or on the bus to bringing their own water bottles, the Raiders have taken the new procedures at hand this season in stride, Tommins said.
“It’s very different this year, but the kids are fine with it and want to play,” he said. “They’re happy to be back in the rink.”
Every team is allowed to play a maximum of 15 games this season.
State tournament play will not occur this winter. The only postseason format teams will be able to participate in will be a conference tournament.
Tommins said the goal for his Hillsborough squad is to make a push for a conference title and the seventh-year coach believes his team is capable of doing so.
“We have a really good team,” Tommins said. “We have a nice plethora of kids. The bond between the kids is good. They have all bought into what our team is all about.”
The Raiders are currently slated to play their second game of the season on Jan. 27 against Hunterdon Central Regional High School.
Hillsborough was supposed to play Ridge High School on Jan. 20, but that game was postponed due to Red Devils being shut down to COVID-19.
A second game against Bridgewater-Raritan was scheduled in place of Ridge, but that contest was also postponed because the Panthers had their own COVID-19 shutdown.
Tommins said he is currently trying to move up the contest against Hunterdon Central to Jan. 22.