When then-freshman men’s hockey forward Robert Mastrosimone left the ice on March 7 after a 2-1 loss to Northeastern in the regular season finale, he knew the team would have to reach another gear when the Hockey East playoffs would begin six days later. The Terriers were set to face the University of Massachusetts Lowell in the quarterfinals as the sixth seed.
Over the next couple of days, schools around the country began sending students home due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the coaches kept the team in focus, knowing they could not afford to be unprepared when they went up to Lowell on March 13.
Business went on as usual — the status of the Hockey East playoffs and the entire NCAA ice hockey season still up in the air. The night before the first game was supposed to be played, the Terriers learned the rest of the season would be canceled.
In a matter of hours, Mastrosimone’s travel plans went from going to Lowell for the weekend to heading home to New York for the summer.
“It was quick. It was like, ‘We’re done, everyone has to leave.’ I was out of here March 13,” Mastrosimone said. “The day I left, we should’ve been playing a game.”
Mastrosimone came to BU after two seasons with the Chicago Steel in the U.S. Hockey League, where he tallied 60 points in 54 games in 2018-19. The East Islip, N.Y. native was the third incoming Terrier to come off the board in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft when he was selected 54th overall by the Detroit Red Wings.
Mastrosimone was one of seven players to appear in all 34 games for the Terriers. He tallied a goal and assist in his collegiate debut last year at Union College on Oct. 5 and remained a consistent offensive force. His 17 points ranked fifth on the team.
Entering his sophomore year in what will be a very different 2020-21 season, Mastrosimone has already felt drastic changes compared to his freshman season.
The team first took the ice together on Sept. 7 and practices have continued since then. Normally, the whole team would be on the ice at the same time. But given the group restrictions brought on by the pandemic, changes had to be made.
“It’s not even the full team [on the ice]. It’s two groups split in half,” Mastrosimone said. “It’s not a lot of contact and six feet apart, and all those mandates.”
The limited contact will make getting back to game speed difficult, Mastrosimone said, but he said he made sure to address that facet of the game over the extended offseason. Listed at 5-feet-10-inches and 170 pounds, Mastrosimone gets into board battles with bigger players on a game-by-game basis, so adding muscle to his frame was a top priority.
With few gyms and ice rinks open on Long Island this summer, Mastrosimone said he had to get creative when it came to training. Having just a small ice sheet to work with may have been a blessing in disguise, as it forced him to work with the puck in tight spaces.
“I think it really helped me work on my small area, corner game, which is going to be really good for me,” Mastrosimone said, “just battling in the corners and getting out of tight spaces and fighting them guys.”
Mastrosimone will be looked at to help lead this relatively young team. With the departures of Patrick Curry, Patrick Harper and classmate Trevor Zegras, Mastrosimone is the second-highest returning scorer on the team, behind Hobey Baker finalist David Farrance.
With the trio of Curry, Harper and Zegras accounting for 36.2 percent of the team’s points last season, Mastrosimone will be one of the first players the team will rely on to help make up for that lost production.
The sophomore acknowledges the expectations, but has faith in his supporting cast to help him.
“Seeing guys practice and skate, I’m pretty confident in the guys we added and the guys we still have from last year,” Mastrosimone said. “It’s obviously in the back of my head and I mean, if the team’s good, I’m going to do good.”
Off the ice, Mastrosimone has been adjusting to Boston University’s Learn from Anywhere model like any other student. The pandemic has caused new challenges, and there remain obstacles to overcome before a season can be played.
Mastrosimone said it has been more difficult to engage virtually compared to in-person classes, but there is one silver lining for him: the flexibility of the hybrid learning system allows him to stay on top of academic work without having to rush from place to place.
“One of my classes actually goes to 10:45 and we’re supposed to practice at 11 during the year,” Mastrosimone said, “and it’s online and it’s pre-recorded, so I can watch it whenever I want.”
When he is not practicing or doing school work, Mastrosimone spends his free time bonding with his teammates. Under normal circumstances, the full team would spend time together, but just as they cannot share the ice all at once, they cannot all share the same indoor space either.
Mastrosimone is limited to hanging out with a handful of teammates at a time, but he said they still enjoy the same low-maintenance activities they always have. Whether it’s playing Call of Duty on Xbox or finding new shows and movies to watch on Netflix, there’s still some sense of normalcy during their time to unwind — only now, it involves fewer people.
Back in March, Mastrosimone didn’t know he would be playing his last game of the season. He didn’t know what the world would be like by the time he stepped back on campus in the fall. There are still things neither he nor anyone else knows — if and when the season will start, what the schedule will look like, if he’ll be playing in front of fans — but he said none of that matters.
What he does know is that whenever the season begins, he’ll be ready to play regardless of the scenario. Fans or no fans, conference-only or not, Mastrosimone is ready to build off the progress from last season and help power this team to success.
“Once we get that first win out of the way, we just got to keep going. We can’t dwell on that and keep looking back on it. We got to string some wins together and get the season going early,” Mastrosimone said. “Expect a good team from BU.”