Colby College head coach Blaise MacDonald, right center, hits the ice with the team for practice Thursday at Colby College in Waterville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

WATERVILLE — If it felt like a long time waiting 95 years for the first national semifinal appearance in program history, the seven months the Colby Collge hockey team was off the ice felt like forever.

The Mules, ranked No. 13 in the most recent NCAA Division III poll, officially opened their season Thursday with the first two practices of the 2018-19 campaign. While other Division III programs have already played their first games, New England Small College Athletic Conference programs must wait until November 1 to begin organized practices.

“It’s definitely a fresh start,” said junior Kienan Scott, who led the Mules with 27 points last season. “I think the big thing for us is our confidence level — knowing that we can compete with the best of the best, knowing that we’re good enough to win this conference. I think knowing that is going to propel us to a very good year.”

Colby practiced briefly at 12:01 a.m. Thursday before hitting the Alfond Rink ice for a full hour-long workout in the afternoon.

Blaise MacDonald, now in his seventh season behind the Mules’ bench, was more than ready to begin working on this year’s product.

“Torture. It’s like torture,” MacDonald said of waiting until Nov. 1, while Division I programs begin in September and most Division III teams begin a few weeks later. “This is what you do, you coach. I’ve coached for a long time, and I’m more used to coaching earlier. I still haven’t gotten used to this long wait. But this never gets old.

“The first day, you just can’t buy anything that feels like this.”

Colby lost to eventual national champion St. Norbert in the Frozen Four last March to end the most successful season in history for a program which began in 1823.

Junior defenseman Mark Leprine doesn’t believe the Mules have any lingering unfinished business after winning Colby’s first NESCAC title on their run to Lake Placid.

“I know obviously coming into the year we’re going to have a target on our back,” Leprine said. “We definitely circle the date — the first day of the season is always the best day. Fall’s a lot of fun with the guys, but towards the end it’s almost, ‘OK, it’s time to buckle down now and play some hockey.'”

The Colby College hockey team hit the ice for practice Thursday at Colby College in Waterville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Colby will have the opportunity to do that when it hosts Middlebury College in the season opener on Nov. 16. The team will raise three banners that night to the Alfond Rink rafters, including one commemorating the NESCAC title and the Frozen Four appearance.

There will be a number of new faces in the lineup against the Panthers. Nine seniors graduated from last year’s Colby team, including four of the team’s top seven scorers and standout goaltender Sean Lawrence.

“It’s a fresh, clean canvas, but yet everybody knows the expectations,” MacDonald said. “The bar has been brought to a much higher level with our program here. We have a lot of new faces, so to see them embrace that is nice — and more than that, to see the upperclassmen kind of shepherd them through this process of getting acclimated to Colby hockey and Colby College. Now as a coach you get to see it firsthand on the ice with your first practice, and it’s impressive.”

But the Mules won’t get too far ahead of themselves in the early going — even after being ranked as high as No. 11 in the national preseason polls or toppling some of New England’s heavyweights in Trinity College and the University of New England en route to the Frozen Four last season.

The Colby College hockey team hit the ice for practice Thursday at Colby College in Waterville. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

“You just don’t know how much noise the players hear,” MacDonald said. “As coaches, we hear a little noise. … That can sort of distort your expectations. I think we’re pretty well grounded, and I think once again it’s ‘Let’s just have a really darned good practice today.’ That’s what got us going last year, and I think we started off on a good note (Thursday).

“I don’t think we’re going to get too far ahead of ourselves. But I think in the back of everyone’s mind, I think there’s greater expectations.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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