Right now, Meehan Auditorium, a dome-shaped arena located at the north of campus, is quiet. The ice lays freshly made under the glow of the lamps, punctuated by bright blue and red lines. Levels of empty stadium-style seats line the edges of the rink, and two scoreboards, one at each end of the building, are blank.
In three days, the rink will be filled with the sounds of blades scratching the ice, sticks clacking together and the brassy ringing of pucks hitting the crossbar as the men’s hockey team laces up its skates for the first time in game action at home since March. The Bears will visit their travel partner Yale to open the 2019-20 season Friday before returning to Meehan to host the Bulldogs the following night.
Bruno’s first outing takes place after nearly two months of preparation. The team initially took to the ice in early September before commencing official practices during the second week of October.
Among this season’s squad is a core group of 19 returning players, which include four of last year’s top five points scorers. Bruno is led by captain Zach Giuttari ’20, who also served as an assistant captain during the team’s 2018-19 campaign, and assistant captains Jack Gessert ’20 and Brent Beaudoin ’20.
“For the most part what we’ve always done even when we weren’t seniors was lead by example,” Beaudoin said. “If we want guys to be doing the right things … then we’ve got to make sure we’re doing the right things all the time so that they see that and that becomes the culture we have.”
“The guys that were chosen (as captains) are naturally inclined to lead — they lead by example, they do the right thing all the time and they understand exactly what I want out of them as players, as people,” said Head Coach Brendan Whittet ’94. “That’s disseminated through their actions throughout the team.”
Bruno welcomes a freshman class of 10, comprised of six forwards and four defensemen. The first-year players have added depth to the roster and integrated smoothly into the team during the preseason, Gessert said.
“Our first goal coming to school this semester was just making sure (the first-years) are up to speed and part of the group, and I think we’ve done a good job of that,” Gessert said.
At one end of Bruno’s home rink, several brown rectangular banners hang from the rafters, displaying the years of previous tournament appearances and championship titles. This year, there is a new addition to one list: 2019. The Bears made it to the semifinals of the ECAC Tournament for the first time since 2013 last spring, and the team now seeks to build on its successes and earn another ticket to Lake Placid at the end of the upcoming season.
“We got a taste of going to Lake Placid for the Final Four tournament last year, which was incredible. … I think that sour taste of losing that first game is still in our mouths and we want to go back there,” Gessert said. “Our goal is to win the tournament and not just get there this year. With the culture we have, the people we have, the freshmen we have, the returners, we have the pieces in place to do that, so we’re really excited.”
Other highlights from last year’s campaign included a 6-5 triple overtime playoff victory over Princeton, which, at 103 minutes and 30 seconds, was the longest game in program history and the 18th longest in NCAA Division I men’s hockey records. After the winter break, Bruno gained momentum, earning six victories in the second half of the regular season. The team also swept fifth-ranked Quinnipiac University in the quarterfinals of the ECAC playoffs in a pair of contests in Hamden, Connecticut.
A key element of these successes was the establishment and awareness of a team identity, Giuttari said. The current squad seeks to retain and reinforce the qualities of tenacity and discipline instilled by its 2019 graduating class.
“In the second half of the season last year when we started to do well, it was when we’d really figured out who we were as a team — we’re hardworking, we keep a really simple game and just stick to the systems that we know,” Giuttari said. “The returners, having been through that and knowing that that is how we have to play and who we have to be if we want to be successful, will really help at the start of this year.”
Whittet further emphasized the importance of playing with grit and vigor, and said that the coaching staff stresses these values to the team on a daily basis.
“There’s philosophically a way that I want our guys to play every time they step on the ice whether it be in practices or in the games. They have to play with a tremendous amount of energy, a tremendous amount of grit, a tremendous amount of heart,” Whittet said. “We want to play fast, and we want to play with a chip on our shoulder and you need the players to buy into that.”
While the Bears look to the first few months of 2019 as a blueprint for future success, they also seek to improve some of their previous habits. Historically, Bruno has had slow starts to seasons, games and practices, and the team looks to break this pattern in the upcoming year, the three captains said.
“We’ve really been focusing on having that high start instead of that low start in everything we do, in practices, in games, this weekend and in the season in general,” Gessert said.
The Bears will have ample opportunity to do this with a slate of 29 games, including 14 at home, before ECAC playoff competition opens in March. In addition to conference opponents, Brown will also face off against non-conference teams throughout the season, including Boston University, Arizona State University and No. 8 Providence College.
“Having a good start will propel the season way better than even last year,” Gessert said. “We’re excited to get right into it.”
The Bears open the season at Yale Friday, Nov. 1 before hosting the Bulldogs at home Saturday, Nov. 2. Face-off is at 7 p.m. both nights.