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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Keepers of the Ice

Butch Atkins arrives at Kenyon Arena around 5:30 a.m. every day to prepare the ice for the figure skaters. He’s at the arena until 9:30 p.m., maintaining the rink and making sure our teams have the best ice possible. His first priority is the ice, and then he ensures that the visiting teams feel welcomed and comfortable to come in and lose. We sat down with Atkins to learn more about his role in the community. 

Atkins first joined the college hockey program working in the equipment room. He saw that the rink was run with unorganized staff, last-minute switches with only one person staffing the game, and student help to make up for the lack of crew members. Noticing the problem areas, Atkins offered to take over with Stan Pratt in 1981. Atkins and Pratt have been ice rink co-managers since then, managing the Kenyon Arena rink, driving the Zamboni, and organizing the other staff members who work the hockey games. 

Butch Atkins drives the Zamboni during a hockey practice.

“They take pride in their preparation,” said coach Bill Beaney, who served as the men’s ice hockey head coach for 28 years and now coaches men’s golf at the college. Atkins and Pratt are always eager to accommodate everyone, from athletes to coaches and even visiting teams. This year, they began making the ice a couple of weeks earlier to help the two hockey teams out. As captain Kamil Tkaczuk ’19 of the men’s ice hockey team recalls, “[While] other NESCAC teams practice for most of the fall on the ice, we normally begin practicing mid-October, waiting for our ice”. 

Atkins and Pratt also serve as counselors, teachers and friends. 

“[Butch and Stan] are so well-known and respected because of the relationships they have with not only the Middlebury family, but also coaches and players across college hockey,” said Beaney. “Having been successful athletes, they’ve helped many college students and coaches navigate the challenges of competitive sport[s].”

For Jenna Marotta, senior captain of the women’s ice hockey team, Atkins is a symbol of comfort amidst the stressful flurry of schoolwork and practice. 

“Butch is a unique part of our Middlebury Hockey family. After a long day of classes, rushing down to practice can be quite stressful,” she said. “Walking into the rink and being greeted with a warm, familiar face is uplifting and comforting. Butch will always take the time out of his day to stop, chat and listen, which creates a special bond between students and faculty.”

At Middlebury since 1981, Butch Atkins currently manages the ice rink with Stan Pratt.

Having been a teacher and coach at Mary Hogan Elementary for years before joining the program, bonding with students is natural. In fact, Atkins shared that one of his favorite Midd moments was when “We Are The Champions” blasted over the loudspeaker as “kids who busted their butts” for two hours walked down the hallway with smiles on their faces. Even when the teams are away, walking through hallways of other arenas, Atkins and Pratt are always rooting for them. With a computer on to track the games with livestreams, “fans” should be added to their already-impressive list of roles as program managers, counselors, teachers and friends.

Atkins actively engages with the students off the rink as well. He teaches lessons that can’t be learned from playbooks or PDF copies of academic journals. Butch urges them to get involved in other areas of the campus. “If you want them to come to your games, you have to go to their things,” Atkins said. On a campus that’s so immersed in individual  activities and workloads, Atkins speaks truth to students – athletes and non-athletes alike – about community. 

Atkins also takes the time to show the athletes his heritage – Vermont. He recounted a time he drove up to Monument Farms with his family, one of the ice hockey captains, and a couple of other athletes to teach them how to hunt. He even planned a special birthday celebration for the captain, surprising her with a small birthday muffin to shoot at. Given the relationships Atkins fosters, it’s unsurprising that for some alumni, the first place they come back to is the Zamboni room.

Atkins and Pratt will be honored by the college for their service on Saturday, February 9. The crowd in attendance is sure to thank them for the warmth they’ve brought to this icy campus.

For full staff issue coverage, click here.

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