The high school winter sports season remains an unknown amid rising covid-19 cases, but with a tentative start date of Dec. 7 still in place, coaches and student-athletes are holding out hope that some form of a season will be put together.
One of the more challenging seasons to construct will be boys ice hockey, with a large number of co-op schools accounting for member teams within the CIAC, as well as a shortage of venues due to numerous college rinks closing its doors to high school competition. Still, the possibility for a season remains as many await the CIAC’s next Board of Control meeting in mid-November, which could bring an update on the outlook for winter sports. But for now, area hockey teams are keeping hope alive.
“There are a lot of things unanswered,” Newington-Berlin head coach David Harackiewicz said. “You take it one day at a time and follow the guidelines so hopefully we can have a season. That's the bottom line, to give the kids an opportunity to compete, especially the seniors. We're just in a holding pattern until we're given direction.”
For co-op teams like Newington-Berlin, more obstacles may have to be overcome. In an Associated Press report earlier this week, CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said concerns had been brought up by school officials regarding co-op teams, which bring players from multiple schools and towns together for practices and games. The Shepaug co-op has already opted out of the potential season, and with all three area teams being co-ops, uncertainty remains.
“It could create a problem,” said David Dubos, the first-year head coach for the Plainville/Middletown/Rocky Hill/Haddam-Killingworth co-op. “I know there was another co-op program that shut the season down because of multiple schools being brought together. But as of right now, I haven't heard anything negative from the athletic directors affiliated with the program about not participating if we get the green light. So we're hoping it goes forward at this point. We're really just waiting for the CIAC to make an announcement or a call on what they want to do.”
Wethersfield used to make up the majority of that co-op, but has enough kids on its roster for its own team this year and will be able to avoid any potential hurdles that a co-op team could face in 2020.
“I'm kind of grateful we're only Wethersfield High School this year,” said Dennis Tulimieri, head coach at Wethersfield and last year’s WMRP head coach. “We enjoyed the co-op experience and they helped keep the program going, but now thank goodness we have enough kids available to have our own team, particularly this season. We're pleased with it and are very hopeful that the season comes soon.”
As for the teams that remain co-ops, the plan is still to move forward with the normal co-ops in place, as long as there is a season. Teams aren’t able to practice yet as the winter season hasn’t started, but they are still doing whatever they can to stay ready for a potential 2020 campaign. Harackiewicz constructed an at-home workout program for his players, who have been using it since the summer months, and had a preseason Zoom meeting scheduled for the team on Thursday night. Dubos wrote up his own dry land workouts for his group and his seniors have been leading those workouts with the rest of the team, while socially distanced, on high school tracks and other outdoor areas where players can remain separated. Dubos also has 16 of his 22 players currently playing in a fall league in Cromwell, and all four schools within the co-op are represented on the team.
“So far, knock on wood, there haven't been any problems,” Dubos said. “It's great to have the majority of the team actually playing together. They're starting to jell and unify as a group. So if we get the green light, that will make the transition even easier for us.”
All three local co-op teams, which also includes Hall-Southington, along with every other team across the state that still has plans to play this season, are still dealing with other factors that have come with an adjusted season. The current plan has shortened the season from 16 to 20 games, which wasn’t much of a problem for fall sports or most other winter sports that have venues on school grounds, but for hockey, which is played on off-site rinks, the scheduling tweak has left many teams scrambling to finalize their 2020 slate.
“The privately-owned facilities are now being bombarded with teams wanting ice time to move forward with their season,” Dubos said. “That's been one hurdle. All of these coaches are having to reschedule games in the shorter season window with less ice time available has become a complex problem, but we're working our way through it little by little. All we're looking for is the opportunity.”
Dubos’ sentiment has been echoed by other co-op coaches. Current circumstances amid a global pandemic have made putting a season together far more difficult than usual, but if it means getting back on the ice safely this winter, they’re willing to endure it. As of now, the plan is to push through the scheduling and co-op hurdles and drop the puck come December.
“We're moving forward with our season,” Harackiewicz said. “We understand they're looking at co-ops because it brings multiple schools together, but the kids are excited to have a season. As far as I know, everything is moving forward.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org