Twenty-three seconds into the varsity boys’ ice hockey team’s game against LaSalle College High School on Wednesday, January 22, Gabe Shipper ’20 found a patch of open ice in the high slot and called for a pass from Jack McLaughlin ’20. Shipper blasted a one-timer past Explorers’ goaltender Aidan McCabe off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net to give Hill an early 1-0 lead its would not relinquish. Will Schaller ’22 tallied a pair of first period goals and Thomas Beaudoin ’22 added an insurance goal late in the second period, and goaltender Sean Parker ’21 made 16 saves to lead the Blues to a 4-1 victory in Mid-Atlantic Hockey League (MAHL) action.
In addition to solidifying Hill’s chances of making the MAHL playoffs, the win was the 100th career victory for head coach Chris Bala ’97.
Bala served as Sixth Form President and was captain of the hockey team during his time at Hill before he attended Harvard University, where he continued his hockey career. He graduated from Harvard in 2001 and then embarked on a six-season professional career that included a stint in the NHL during his rookie season, when he also was named an all-star in the American Hockey League, the NHL’s top developmental league.
A native of nearby Phoenixville, Bala returned to the region for his final professional seasons in which he played for the Hershey Bears and the Reading Royals. Bala retired following the 2006-2007 season and joined The Hill faculty as an Assistant Director of Admission in the fall of 2007.
After spending five seasons as an assistant coach, Bala became Hill’ head varsity boys’ ice hockey coach prior to the 2013-2014 season. In his first season, Bala led a young, rebuilding team to a respectable record of 14-15-1, setting the stage for the next season’s improvement to 17-11-1, a year which included a 3-1 victory over a Brunswick School team that was ranked eighth in New England.
Many players cite Bala’s resume and his intricate knowledge of the game as factors that attract them to the School. Throughout his tenure, Bala has methodically increased the program’s depth, allowing the team to roll multiple lines against some of New England’s best prep programs. The Blues have found local success as well, winning the MAHL championship in 2016, 2017, and 2019 to compliment tournament titles at the Albany Academy Rider Cup in 2014, the Mid-Atlantic Invitational in 2015, and the Barber Tournament in 2019.
Beyond being a milestone win for Bala, the victory also was the 800th in program history, dating back to the arrival of Ned Hall at The Hill and the ensuing establishment of hockey as a permanent sport in 1952. As of January 23, 2020, the program’s all-time record stands at 800 wins, 607 losses, and 73 ties.