For most of the 2021 ice hockey season, the passionate crowd that normally fills the bleachers at Keene Ice was replaced by yellow caution tape covering the now-mostly-empty stands.
But behind the tape, about halfway up the seats at mid-ice, Keene High graduate Ben Brown was set up with a camera and a computer, broadcasting the Keene boys hockey games to a community that was desperate for a way to support the team from home.
The program has been trying to implement live streams for a few years, said head coach Chris McIntosh, but it was never as high of a priority as it was this year, when in-person attendance was extremely limited.
“We wanted to make sure that we had something that allowed our group of followers, supporters … to not only follow the team but, with doing that, support the players,” McIntosh said, adding that the live streams were one of the main goals for the program this year.
And who better than Brown, a staple of the team up until his graduation last year, to commentate the broadcasts.
“He was the perfect conduit on so many different levels,” McIntosh said. “Not only his relationship to the team and the players and the coaches, but his relationship with the parents and the families. Everybody knows Ben. Everybody knows Captain Ben.”
“That was a really special part about it,” Brown said of his strong relationship with the entire Keene hockey community. “The program gave so much to me over the last four years. So, to be able to give back to such a dedicated group of parents and fans and students, it’s really something special and I’m just glad that I could be a part of that.”
McIntosh said as soon as the live streams started to come to fruition, he knew he wanted to get Brown involved.
A freshman at Southern New Hampshire University, Brown spent the fall semester studying remotely, giving him the opportunity to be at most of the home games and even a few away games.
But Brown has never broadcasted a game before in his life.
“No, not at all,” he said with a laugh when asked about having any broadcasting experience. “When [McIntosh] asked me, I was kind of hesitant to do it at first. But I figured I’ve been around hockey a long enough time, I think I can figure it out.”
And he did figure it out, it seems like most of the community would agree.
McIntosh said he was asked by parents if Brown was studying broadcasting in college. He is not (he’s studying sports management), but it goes to show how much the community enjoyed the broadcasts.
One parent was even listening to Brown’s call of the game while she was driving, like a radio broadcast, McIntosh said.
“He took it seriously, and it showed,” McIntosh said.
Brown heard the positive feedback, too. Whether it was a parent pulling him aside at one of the games, or a message on Facebook or a text.
“I’m glad I had the support because I wasn’t super confident in my ability to call the games,” Brown said. “So, the fact that everybody seemed to like it, it was really good to have that positive reinforcement.”
Brown’s broadcasts were a constant topic of conversation at the Boosters Club meetings, said Becky Russell, club president and parent to Jacob and Ethan Russell, both key players on the team.
“It’s so nice to know that Ben is out there in the stands because we’re familiar with him,” Russell said. “He knows us, he knows what we’re about. And it couldn’t have been a better person who was there to advocate and support the team.”
And, from her perspective as a parent, Russell said it helped her stay connected in an otherwise disconnected season.
“All in all, it made the season feel more normal in many ways,” Russell said. “[Brown] made so many of us feel that we were still connected somehow. Especially the away games that we weren’t able to attend as parents.”
And it wasn’t just the Keene boys hockey team that Brown helped out.
Brown commentated the Monadnock Regional’s boys hockey senior night at Keene Ice, which Russell, who works at Monadnock, said was extremely appreciated.
“Tom [Cote] (Monadnock’s athletic director) was so thankful,” Russell said. “For [Brown] to extend that to not only Keene but to be able to provide that for other high schools was very telling in who he is as a person.”
He represented Keene hockey “in the best way possible,” McIntosh said.
“Like he always has,” he added. “I just think back to the little things. The way he spoke about the team was like he was still there. At the end of the broadcasts, he would thank everybody on behalf of Keene High hockey. He was even shouting out sponsors this year.”
And none of it could’ve happened without all the technical help from assistant coach Scott Sortorio, who set up the camera and made sure the live streams ran smoothly.
“Between he and Ben … they made it happen,” McIntosh said.
Although Brown is likely one-and-done when it comes to sports broadcasting, he said he had a blast bringing the games to life for the community.
“I enjoyed it a ton,” Brown said. “I just enjoyed being at the games and being around those guys. The fact that I knew the guys and was able to bring the games to people was really enjoyable.”
It was one of the silver linings of the COVID pandemic, Russell said, so the Boosters Club hopes to keep the live streams around in the future, even when the community is allowed to pack into Keene Ice and support its team once again.