Tuesday started like many other postseason weekdays had – after losing in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Tournament, Miami hockey’s season had ended and a postseason meeting was scheduled for the afternoon.
The RedHawks filed into the locker room to talk about summer workouts and plans for next season. The gathering happened at 1:30 p.m., a time during the season reserved for film, meetings or practice.
Senior defenseman and co-captain Grant Hutton was skating on Tuesday around 1:30 p.m., preparing for the next steps in his hockey career. He wasn’t needed at the meeting, as he was leaving Oxford and the Brotherhood soon.
But someone called him off the ice before 1:30 p.m. and encouraged him to head to the locker room.
“It’s not hard to read the emotions and facial expressions,” Hutton said. “I definitely knew something was up.”
All of the seniors had been encouraged to attend.
So, Hutton sat in his locker stall and waited with his teammates.
Head hockey coach Enrico Blasi is known for being punctual, and his pregame speeches are routinely an hour and a half on the dot before puck-drop.
At 1:30 p.m., he addressed his team.
“It was his goodbye,” associate head coach Peter Mannino said. “He was extremely choked up, really couldn’t talk.”
Blasi stood at the front of the locker room and started with a soft delivery of the harsh reality: “This is the last time I’ll be talking in this spot.”
The Student reached out to Blasi for comment, and he said he felt unprepared to make a statement at this time.
Blasi reiterated his love for the program and his love for the shocked, blank faces staring back at him.
“It was very emotional,” junior forward Gordie Green said.
“He said,” Green paused, “how he loved every one of his players that had played for him and that he loves us,” Green paused again and took a breath, “and that he’s always a phone call away for us.”
When Blasi was done, he went around and gave each player a hug.
Mannino and assistant coach Joel Beal watched their boss, still reeling from the decision, even though they had known since 9:30 a.m.
Blasi had sent a text to his staff’s groupchat asking them to meet him at his house.
There had been rumors about the status of Blasi’s job, especially after the RedHawks finished this season 11-23-4 and 5-17-2 in conference play.
But, even after the program’s fourth consecutive season under .500, the team’s staff – Mannino, Beal, director of hockey operations Dean Stork, equipment manager Andy Geshan and assistant athletic trainer Drew Ruckelshaus – was shocked when Blasi told them the news.
“It was tough,” Mannino said. “It was probably the toughest part of the day, being there with him post-meeting because it’s the freshest part of the decision. It was very personal.”
They sat in Blasi’s home with his family, often in silence.
“We were the group that went through it and we just had to be there with each other,” Mannino said.
The players, the other part of this year’s group, sat in a similar silence after Blasi’s announcement at the all-team meeting.
“The locker room is such a special place,” Beal said. “The emotion in that place is real. For me, and I know for Rico and for Peter, it’s that there’s things that are happening inside of that locker room and there’s emotions that are coming from a place outside the locker room.
“The first thing I know that Rico is thinking about is the 20 years of players and families that he’s gotten to know. He’s thinking about his own family. He’s thinking about, the way it is with Rico is, he’s thinking about my family and he’s thinking about Peter. He cares so much about everybody else. That’s why it becomes really emotional.”
After Blasi hugged each of his players, he left the front of the locker room and walked away from the helm of Miami hockey.