With graduation season upon us for high schoolers, there is no better time to celebrate the Class of 2020. The circumstances this year are tough due to the COVID-19 pandemic: many of these young men and women lost the opportunity to finish out their last school year, go to the senior prom, walk at graduation ceremonies: it’s a truly unprecedented time in this country’s history.
But, there is something we can do. All season long we at MassNZ have been covering this senior class. In fact, we just published our list of the Top 130 MIAA Seniors we saw this season over on the main Neutral Zone site. We don’t want to let the on and off-ice efforts of these young men fall by the wayside as this pandemic has forced everyone to change their daily routines. This series will feature in-depth profiles where these seniors get to tell their own stories on their terms. We want to give them the platform to talk about what this year meant to them and what the future may have in store.
This week we are celebrating the five-year varsity hockey career of Brian Frieh of Barnstable HS. A dual-sport athlete in both football and hockey, Frieh finished off his final hockey season putting up a 30 point campaign (13 goals and 17 assists) while leading the Red Raiders to an 8th seed in the D1 South bracket before being ousted in the first round by a strong Falmouth team. From learning to skate on a frozen bog to being the starting running back on the gridiron: the fire burns deep within Frieh, and that’s why he doesn’t want this to be the end of his athletic career…
MassNZ: What was it like to have a chance to win the half-season state tournament for Barnstable? Who were some of the teams you were competing against and I imagine the chemistry of that team was next level?
Frieh: It was definitely the best feeling I’ve had as a hockey player. I wanna say we were the only town team in the tournament so we played all club teams and beat the Boch Blazers in the finals. I think the thing that separated us was the chemistry. For the most part we all played together in the high school season and you could just tell we wanted it way more than the other teams. It meant more to us.
MassNZ: You played five years of varsity hockey at Barnstable: what was it like to play as an 8th grader against players who were 18? Was it difficult to establish your game?
Frieh: I played my whole JV season as an 8th grader but for the last game of the season I was called up for my varsity debut. It was very nerve racking from what I remember but I had all the confidence that I could play at that level. I simplified my game and didn’t try to be anything I wasn’t. I took it shift by shift and really felt comfortable after my first 2 or 3 shifts.
MassNZ: When did you start playing hockey? Do you remember first putting on skates?
Frieh: I was pretty much born into the sport. I first put on skates when I was two years old and learned to skate on a frozen bog. I was 4 years old when I was signed up for Farm youth hockey and the rest is history.
MassNZ: Did you mostly play your youth hockey in Barnstable or were there other programs where you learned to play?
Frieh: I played for Barnstable Youth Hockey Association (BYHA) my whole youth career.
MassNZ: What is the hockey culture like on the Cape? It seems to be very tightly-knit and to some degree it’s “us against the world”. How would you characterize it?
Frieh: The hockey culture on Cape is great and I don’t think it gets enough credit. Especially when you get into the schools like Barnstable and Falmouth, there is a lot of passion and history for the sport and when the two teams play each other there’s not an empty seat in the building.
MassNZ: How have things changed from your freshman year to your senior year? How did the team evolve over those four years?
Frieh: A lot changed over my four years. My freshman year we finished with just 3 wins on the year. Then just the next year we became legitimate state championship contenders and stayed there through my senior year.
MassNZ: How has your game changed over the past four years? What do you view as the strengths of your game?
Frieh: My game definitely matured immensely over my 5 years in Barnstable. Discipline and consistency were an issue early on. I went from one of the top players my freshman year (winning co-MVP by player vote) to leading my team in penalty minutes sophomore year and my production decreased. I did a great job staying out of the box my next two seasons but also kept my edge which I felt was a huge part of my game.
I would say my number one strength is my knowledge of the game and ability to see the ice. I view myself as a pass-first player. Over the years I learned that holding on to the puck and not using your teammates only hurts you and your team. As an undersized player I know the importance of playing with a chip on my shoulder and getting into those dirty areas to get under my opponents’ skin. I’m strong and disciplined in the defensive zone and I’m a strong penalty killer. I can take on many roles as well, whether it be a third line grinder or a top line playmaker.
MassNZ: We noticed that you started up a GoFundMe page to continue playing hockey and raise money to play for the Cape Cod Seahawks of the EHL. Tell us more about why continuing to play hockey is so important to you.
Frieh: Hockey has been my ultimate passion since I was born pretty much. I have pictures of me in diapers holding a hockey stick. I still have a very competitive drive and I’m not ready to give that up yet. I feel I still have a lot left to prove and if given the chance I know I can make a difference.
MassNZ: Hockey isn’t the only sport you play, you are also the lead running back on the football team. How do you prepare differently to play on the gridiron compared to the ice?
Frieh: When it comes to football I become a completely different person. It’s very intense and demanding so if you’re not ready to go then it’s gonna be a long night. I’m usually not very easy to talk to before a football game.
MassNZ: How difficult is it to go from the gridiron to the ice? Do you notice a lag over your first few games as you switch sports?
Frieh: It really all depends on how much I was able to play hockey in the fall. Freshman year I was playing both at the same time so I was ready to go come hockey season. The next three years I would sideline hockey for football season and come hockey season I would be very rusty. It usually took 3-4 games to really get my legs back. Senior year was a bit different with an early exit from the postseason in football. I was able to join my half season team for the state tournament and we won it so I felt pretty confident going into the high school season and didn’t really miss a beat.
MassNZ: How translatable is being a running back to being a top forward in hockey? Do the physical and mental skills translate?
Frieh: Being my size (5’7) and playing running back it meant that I took a lot of big hits on a regular basis so I would say that it made me fearless when it came to hockey. Mentally I think both sports helped each other by learning different things that I could use in any situation.
MassNZ: What is your ultimate goal for after this coming season? You obviously want to keep playing, but where do you look to go from there?
Frieh: I just wanna take it step by step and just keep growing my game and see where it can take me.