University of New England goalie Billy Girard has a 2.12 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage while starting 25 of the Nor’easters’ 27 games this season. David Bates photo/Courtesy of UNE athletics

BIDDEFORD — Just 50 miles north of Miami, the city of Boca Raton, Florida, sounds like the kind of place hockey players retire to, not where they develop their skills.

Yet here is Billy Girard, the University of New England’s sophomore goalie and Boca Raton native, stopping pucks like he grew up with sugar maples in his backyard instead of palm trees.

“Obviously the market’s not big down there, but it’s getting better,” Girard said before a practice this week. “Within 30 minutes of my house, there’s three or four rinks I can go to. The hockey community is growing down there. There’s more talented players coming out of Florida.”

Last weekend, Girard made a season-high 38 saves in UNE’s 2-0 NCAA Division III quarterfinal win at Utica College. Utica entered the game ranked No. 2 in the country and averaging close to six goals per game.

The win moves the No. 8 Nor’easters (23-3-1) to the Division III Frozen Four for the first time. UNE will play No. 3 SUNY Geneseo (23-3-1) at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York, site of the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey victory over the Soviet Union and subsequent gold-medal victory over Finland.

A win Friday puts the Nor’easters in the national championship game Saturday night against the other semifinal winner, No. 1 Adrian or No. 4 Augsburg.


“He played an incredible game,” UNE Coach Kevin Swallow said of Girard’s effort against Utica. “We knew going into that game they were going to be very dangerous offensively.”

Two saves jump out as the key stops in the game, Swallow said. Late in the second period, Girard reached back to get the paddle of his stick on a Cameron Patton shot as it sat on the goal line, before it could cross. Then, in the third period, Girard reacted to a quick pass across the ice to make a glove save and maintain a 1-0 lead.

“Those were turning moments in the game for sure. Those two go in the net, we lose the game 2-1,” Swallow said. “I think he’s a leader on our team for sure. He’s not afraid to speak up and speak his mind.”

“I thought maybe that changed the momentum for us. Going into that intermission, we felt like we were in control,” Girard said of his late second-period save. In the third period, he made 20 saves to complete the shutout, holding off the Pioneers until his teammates were able to add an empty-net goal in the final minute. “At some point, we knew their goalie was going to come out for the extra guy, so I was just trying to buy time.”

Girard isn’t a one-game wonder. His play has been strong all season. A third team all-Commonwealth Coast Conference selection, Girard has a 2.12 goals-against average and a .921 save percentage while starting 25 of UNE’s 27 games.

“When Billy’s playing like he did against Utica, we can play with any team,” said UNE forward Dan Winslow, whose short-handed goal in the second period Saturday gave the Nor’easters a 1-0 lead.


Girard’s mother, Karen Girard, was a competitive figure skater growing up, and got her son on the ice, where he gravitated to hockey. Despite hockey’s growth in Florida, Girard came north for prep school, graduating from South Kent School in Connecticut before playing junior hockey for the Boston Junior Rangers.

Named the Eastern Hockey League’s top goalie, Girard drew the attention of Swallow. Girard felt like he clicked with Swallow and the rest of UNE’s coaches, and for a Florida kid, the school’s proximity to the beach didn’t hurt, either.

“He’s calm, cool, and collected. He doesn’t let much get to him. He approaches every day professionally, whether it’s a workout, stretching, recovery, nutrition. His approach to practice, games, everything, he’s professional,” Swallow said. “It started last year when he was a freshman. Obviously, with COVID we didn’t play many games. He played a handful of games but he was excellent in the games he played. We know coming in this year we had some solid goaltending, and he’s taken it to another level.”

In SUNY Geneseo, UNE faces a potent offensive opponent similar to Utica. The Knights average 4.7 goals per game, and have converted 28.8 percent of their power-play tries (32 for 111). Girard knows he’ll be tested again. He welcomes it.

“I think I’m a calming presence back there for the guys. I’m definitely laid back,” Girard said. “I’m able to move the puck to my defense well, I’m pretty vocal. I’m not the quietest goalie. I just try to be a bridge back there to the D (defense).”

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