When goalkeeper Colton Phinney was still a recruit, the Princeton coaching staff watched him play the Bay State Breakers. Phinney, then with the Islanders Hockey Club, faced off against Ben Halford.
“That was probably the biggest game of his life,” Halford’s goalkeeping coach, Bryan McDonald, said.
Before the game, Princeton had expressed interest in Halford. And after watching Halford lead Bay State to victory, the Tiger staff invited Halford to campus for a visit.
“The kid just went there and stood on his head. [He] played out of his mind,” McDonald said.
“He’s not affected by anything.”
McDonald said Halford sees the ice well, makes good decisions and moves well for his 6-foot-3 frame, but focus is one of Halford’s best assets. For years, Halford recorded training sessions and games for studying. Even in the offseason.
“He lives for hockey and lives for goaltending,” McDonald said.
Halford, a member of the Bay State Breakers for three seasons, never talks much on game days.
“He’s very quiet, focused,” Halford’s Bay State goalkeeping partner Jake Bryniarski said. “Which is different, because normally he’s very talkative.”
After visiting Princeton, Halford verbally committed.
“There wasn’t really much of a question about committing there. It’s a great school,” Halford said
“I like the campus. I like the character and a lot of the historic value of the campus, and it just seemed like it was a community down there.”
Bryan McDonald’s goalkeeping camp starts at 8 a.m. But in the offseason, Halford makes the 45-minute drive to Mac Goaltending, arriving around 5:30 a.m.
He starts each day with a planned workout, which includes an orange-and-black foam roller called the Tiger Tail.
“He doesn’t just wing it and just go to the gym for going to the gym,”McDonald said. “He has a clear vision for what he’s trying to accomplish.
“He does all kinds of stuff and I actually make fun of him all the time.”
Halford skates with McDonald each Monday, Tuesday and Friday. On Wednesday night he works out, conducting a routine similar to his in-season workouts.
“That’s what it takes to get to that level and it’s something special to see,” McDonald said.
“Really he’s not any different on the ice than he is off the ice.”
In the summer, Halford serves as a lead instructor at McDonald’s camp and teaches young goalkeepers. He also aided the camp during his vacations and has taught local goalkeepers while playing for the Bay State Breakers.
“It’s just great to be able to help them out and give them someone to talk to and talk through issues that they’re having with their game,” Halford said.
When Halford isn’t teaching young goalkeepers, he’s working with McDonald to simplify his approach.
“It’s playing boring,” McDonald said. “There’s no extra movement. It’s about reading the play and keeping everything the exact same every time so you can be consistent.”
The situation was different when the pair first met, roughly seven years ago when Mac Goaltending was just starting. McDonald first noticed Halford’s size and raw talent, but saw that Halford needed to work on his movement, reading the play and his anticipation.
“He was an explosive kid, but he was also one that wasn’t playing to his size, a kid that played small,” McDonald said.
“I knew if he got that and he established that, everything else is going to fall in to place.”
McDonald then crafted a routine Halford was willing to follow.
“He’s very focused, he had a very open mind which is a big thing, when he was working with me,” McDonald said. “That trust factor that you’re going to have, he was entering a stage of his development where you’re getting close to a make or a break time for him.”
Halford was just beginning his prep school hockey journey with Avon Old Farms. The goalkeeper sat too far down on the depth chart and rarely played. So he transferred to Albany Academy at the end of his sophomore year. In 2010-11, Halford played in 36 games with the school.
“That was a big change, but the right change for me,” Halford said. “It ended up paying off in the long run.”
At that stage in development, McDonald wanted Halford, an aggressive player, to sit deeper in the net and use his instincts, body control and anticipation instead of just his raw ability.
After his time at Albany Academy, Halford joined the South Shore Kings of the then-EJHL. The Kings traded Halford to the Bay State Breakers, where he played from 2011-14.
“It’s been great,” Halford said. “Kyle Robertson is our goalie coach and he’s done a great job with me, with the people before me and I’m sure with the people after me, developing us and really bringing out our potential.”
In his final season with Bay State, he recorded a 3.22 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage.
With Bay State, Halford began yoga classes to increase his flexibility and endurance. After taking a year off from yoga, Halford started again last season with his goalkeeping partner Jake Bryniarski.
“It’s just interesting because we always kind of look at each and we laugh a lot because we can’t do a lot of the yoga poses,” Bryniarski said. “But we’re getting a lot better at it, so it’s always fun to laugh at yourselves.”
It’s a Hockey Life
Bryniarski entered his first season with Bay State last year. Halford served as his mentor, helping Bryniarski adjust to the USPHL. When Bryniarski won his first game, Halford skated off the bench and gave him a hug.
“He’s always very encouraging, pretty supportive,”Bryniarski said.
“[He’s a] pretty stand up guy. And I thought he was a little bit funny because he had facial hair.”
One weekend last season, the pair split starts. Bryniarski won the first game, and Halford participated in a slight altercation at the end of the second game.
“As soon as we came in, our coach said something like, ‘Ben good fight, Jake good win. Now we’ve got two goalies for the year.’ And we both just smiled and laughed at each other,” Bryniarski said.
Halford offered Bryniarski with advice on college recruiting, including when schools will reach out and what they’re looking for.
“The advice he’s given me is control what you can control and have fun on the ice,” Bryniarski said.
With the Breakers, Halford appeared in 96 games, a program record. He also holds the team record for wins and shutouts.
“He’s always at the rink. He’s always the first one at the rink,” Bryniarski said. “I always get there second and he’s always there two minutes before me. And then after our practice, he always goes right to work, [a] different hockey rink.
“And he gets home and he’ll text me something about hockey.”
Halford’s dad, Andy, played college hockey at Vermont and played professionally in Germany. SoBen Halford learned to skate shortly after learning to walk. Growing up, Halford followed hockey at all levels, and watched Division I and Division III games.
After Halford turned seven, he tried goalkeeping for a few scattered games.
“He decided that’s what he wanted to do full time. And for some reason I let him,” Andy Halford said.
After his ninth birthday, Ben Halford turned to goalkeeping full time.
”I wanted to be the last line of defense and to have that pressure,’ Halford said.