It’s been a big summer for the Boston Blades and their new GM, Krista Patronick. Since she was brought on in June, Patronick has had her hands full with pre-season team maintenance that includes inking a deal with the New England Sports Center and hiring Brian McCloskey as the new Head Coach.
“Brian’s knowledge of the game is incredible,” Patronick said of the hiring. “He runs active practices, he doesn’t stand at the board a lot but rather keeps the players moving through drills and focusing on their development as players.”
Patronick acknowledged the controversy in McCloskey’s past, saying, “It was something we had to consider. What happened left a mark on his career and we can’t ignore that. But at the same time, there is a lot of power in the idea of a second chance for him…he’s coaching the Blades because he truly wants to work with the best female athletes in North America.” Patronick maintained that the CWHL has a zero tolerance policy, but iterated that McClonskey had learned from his mistake.
“The players have responded really well to Brian,” she said. “They respect him.”
That sentiment was echoed by defenseman Kacey Bellamy in the Blades’ press release about McCloskey’s hiring:
“The Boston Blades just won the lottery getting Coach McCloskey,” [Bellamy] said. “He is the most knowledgeable on ice coach I have ever had. He has been my mentor since I stepped on the campus of UNH my freshman year and without him I would not be where I am today. His experience and accolades speak volumes, but it is who he is as a person that separates him from his peers.”
Though the Blades have historically been one of the CWHL’s most successful teams, Patronick and McCloskey see no reason to rest on their laurels. No matter what the roster ultimately looks like, it will be a very different Boston Blades on the ice this CWHL season.
“Any time there is a new coach there are new styles and systems in place. What’s important to me is implementing a culture where players buy into a system of accountability and a vision for the team,” Patronick said. “One where they’re playing for the girl sitting next to her as well as her own development as an athlete. I have every faith that Brian will implement that culture.”
But locker room culture and coaching staff aren’t the only changes for Boston’s foremost female hockey team. The Blades have moved home ice as well, in a change that Patronick says is “huge” for the team. Despite the accessibility of UMass Boston’s rink, underlying issues–including expensive parking for players–made the Blades’ stay there ultimately untenable.
And the facilities at NESC offer more than just free parking: “There is a commitment to getting us a permanent locker room,” Patronick revealed. “The footprint [there] is huge with so many youth teams, and especially girls teams, who play out of there.”
The youth outreach is in line with Patronick’s own goal: she wants her Blades to be a part of Boston not just in name, but community involvement as well. The NHL has been lauded for its youth outreach in particular, growing the game by integrating teams into their local communities. It’s a strategy that the CWHL has been open about following as well, offering free youth tickets to Clarkson Cup games and establishing relationships with young teams.
“There are so many things to be excited about,” Patronick mused, upon being asked to name the upcoming season’s biggest draw. “Our home opener, with the Clarkson Cup present; our Military Appreciation night in which the girls will be wearing camo jerseys; our teddy bear toss; the possibility of outdoor hockey; the idea of working with other professional teams…”
‘Other professional teams’?
“I can say that there will be pre-season games in the United States with an NHL partner to help kick off the season, and Boston will be involved.”
All of that, and the CWHL has increased the $500 award for individual and team awards to $1000. “We want to show our commitment to the players and to getting them paid within the next season or two,” Patronick declared. “We all want this sooner rather than later but we want to do it in the right way and in a sustainable way.”
New digs, new leadership, new monetary incentives. It’s been a big summer for the Boston Blades, but if the offseason is anything to go by, it’ll be an even bigger winter.