NEWINGTON - The importance of building strong relationships for the success of a high school sports team cannot be overstated, but it can still be difficult despite all of the student-athletes being from the same town and going to school together.
What about if the team is comprised of players from seven schools? Because that was something Avon-Southington-Newington-Wethersfield-Lewis Mills-RHAM-Coventry girls ice hockey team needed to figure out.
In circumstances when one school does not have enough students to field an entire team, it will co-op with other nearby schools to fill out the roster as one combined team. Many small schools in the state will do this for football and locally, the three high schools in Bristol unify to make one boys swimming and diving team.
Co-ops are more common in hockey, and even more common in girls hockey, forcing coaches to organize kids from various towns, who may not know each other, to become one hockey team.
The Nighthawks are one of six girls hockey teams in the CCC, five of which are co-ops, and started the season 4-1 as the team comes together strongly despite representing seven schools.
“A lot of it has to do with our leadership,” head coach Mike Carrera said. “I have good captains and that makes it easy. If you don’t bring that group together then you have a lot of separate entities, but we don’t have any of that. I have a good group of leaders and they make sure this is a team. This is the Nighthawks, isn’t Avon, Southington, all that.”
Avon, Southington, Newington and Wethersfield students make up the majority of the Nighthawks’ roster, which could make finding a spot on this team more difficult for the kids from RHAM, Lewis Mills and Coventry, but Carrera said he has not seen any problems. Many of the players play on local travel teams such as the Northern Lights or the Wolfpack, but that does do nearly enough to unify the whole team as many players, including goaltender Logan Lada, do not get to play with their teammates out of season.
“Off the bat it’s a little bit hard because nobody really knows each other and it’s hard to get that chemistry,” said Nicole Partridge, a forward from Wethersfield, said. “Once you do, everything just clicks and we’re able to work as a team. It’s like we’ve all known each other and played with each other for our whole lives.”
Moving forward, the Nighthawks’ focus is just to improve as quickly as they can whenever they get the chance. They lost a lot of their practice time recently, entirely caused by the snow that hit Connecticut over the past few weeks, and are looking to make up for that time any way possible.
“We’re just missing out on some work, getting to work together because a lot of our practices have been canceled,” Lada said. “It’s a balance between practicing during the games and staying with the other teams.”
Carrera added that having more practice time would make them a more consistent team. He said the team’s win over the Conard-Hall co-op Wednesday was the best he’s seen from his players all season and being able to work on those techniques outside of games would benefit them greatly.
“If we get the practice time we’re working on our cycle,” Carrera said. “We cycle the puck low with the defenders up high and that’s what we really look to do. We push that in our breakout and then everything else is battle driven.”
Carrera said the team has not faced any issues following the covid protocols implemented by the CIAC, but having “to keep seven AD’s happy” is an additional challenge many coaches, especially outside of hockey, don’t have to worry about facing.
Like every other student-athlete trying to navigate a season in the pandemic, time is the most important thing for these players because all they want to do is play. They completed the most difficult part of getting on the ice and playing as a team, now they want the chance to perfect it.
“I think we’re just hoping that we don’t have any snow days, we don’t get quarantined or anything because we only have a few weeks left so we’re just hoping to get as much as we can,” Partridge said.
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org