Confessions of a Co-op Kid (Part V)
Division 1 Tri-Town
Paul and I had an immediate impact on attitude and culture. The numbers got better and we were making the state tournament consistently. All of that would change in 2006-07. Suddenly there was some sort of mass exodus from the Falcons organization (formerly the Springfield Pics) that we became the beneficiaries of. We ended up getting 7 or 8 players who could skate with ANYONE in the state. We went 9-0 and for the first time ever were ranked in the top 10 in CT.
Hold the presses! I know what you’re thinking, it wouldn’t be that easy. We finished the season 18-2 earning us a promotion from Division 2 to Division 1 in the middle of the season. Tri-Town had the misfortune of having its best season with its best players in the middle of a disastrous experimental rankings system that was used for 1 year. We ended up traveling to Hamden in the 1st round only to lose a close 1-goal game. Just like that it was over.
Years went on and Tri Town became a team that was known across the state. Between 2007 and 2011 we would regularly make the state tournament and capture 2 NHC Championships. This was a drastic change from the early years. Tri Town Hockey had finally arrived. I was so happy for the program, the players and proud of what we ALL had accomplished.
When the 2009-10 season rolled around I was starting to question myself as a coach. No matter how great you have it as an assistant coach (I think I had the best assistant job in the state) there will come a time when you want to call the shots and lead your own team. Paul Dowe is a great friend and coach so after one of the toughest coaching decisions I have ever had to make I decided to give being a head coach a shot. Paul and the team were sad I was leaving but understood why, fully supporting my decision.
I was taking over a 1-win team. I was going to change the culture like we did at Tri-Town. I was a good high school hockey coach! These guys would respect me… Not so fast!
I can’t remember the numbers but I believe we started with 17 or 18 skaters plus 2 goalies. One goalie was basically an emergency goalie that had never played organized hockey. We were not a good hockey team. We struggled on the ice in games and in practice. We were a squirt team playing high school hockey. The losses came fast and furious. After less than a quarter of the season we had lost 2 or 3 players to grades including our best player Senior/Captain, 1 had a discipline issue and then add some injuries. We finished the season starting games with 10 skaters, sometimes finishing with less.
Our goalie Eddie Burke was a warrior facing 50-60 plus shots a game. Eddie had left the team the previous season and I had to beg him to come back. He was an excellent goalie who had grown tired of the losing. I don’t know how he survived but he did and I was grateful. You build from the goal out and at that time that was all we had. The question was asked to the boys with a few games left and numbers at or below 10. Did they want to forfeit the remainder of the year? The answer was a resounding NO! This was the point that I knew I had accomplished something. They never quit all year. We played the trap strictly and held a few teams within a goal or two. We won 1 game. It was hard for everyone but little did we know it was all about to change next year.
Ride the WAVE
With the team floundering and a new AD hired at Windsor I was VERY nervous that the hockey team was going to be disbanded. I sat down with the new AD and recommended trying to see if any other schools wanted to co-op. I had experience with it at Tri-Town and was sure that I could help get things back in order if we had the numbers. I suggested some teams that I knew had lost a co-op partner or who were struggling themselves. After a few phone calls, emails and meetings it was decided. Next season we would be a coop of Windsor-Avon-East Granby. I dubbed the team the WAVE and it stuck. The hard part was ahead of us now. How would we be able to merge these schools, players and parents who were all very different in every way possible?
Not only did Avon lose their co-op with St. Paul High School but it also had lost its very popular head coach. Taking over a team is hard enough, but taking over a team who has lost their head coach, a man who was well respected amongst players, the students, and coaches’ state wide including myself is very tough. I knew this coach personally and it felt awkward replacing him. I worked my way into the new players circle of trust and established a rapport with all the parents as well. We had an amazing season capturing the regular season CCC South Title and made a run to Yale appearing in the D3 semi-finals. The future was bright and I was proud of what we had accomplished as a new team.
Next season arrived with the news that another school wanted to join our co-op. After our success the previous season and this team struggling for numbers like we had in the past, Farmington wanted in. They were Avon’s natural rival but I was positive that it would work. We had amazing kids and I had great coaches who were all capable of being head coaches. I was approached by the AD who asked if I would like to add the former Farmington coach onto my staff as well. I happily accepted, knowing that he was a great coach who was well respected and had a state championship under his belt. It was October and I couldn’t wait for the season to begin!