In the average year, co-op teams tend to need a bit more time to work on team chemistry and simply getting to know one another. This can range from team-building activities off the ice to bonding time during off-hours practices, making that extra time taken crucial in helping to form a cohesive unit out of athletes hailing from multiple communities.
This year, of course, has been anything but normal. The continued presence of COVID-19 and pandemic-driven restrictions threatened the existence of a winter season at all, and safety regulations and guidelines have changed schedules, practices and preparation, almost everything surrounding the game itself.
This is what the Marblehead Girls Ice Hockey Team and Rockport Boys Hockey Team both faced before the start of the season. Both teams are co-ops that draw athletes from Manchester Essex: The boys’ team includes athletes from MERHS and Rockport, while the girls’ team includes players from ME, Hamilton-Wenham, Swampscott and Marblehead high schools.Both teams have faced a number of hurdles due to pandemic guidelines.
“Because of COVID, there have been some additional challenges this year,” explains Marblehead girls coach Brittany Smith.“We no longer can use locker rooms, and the girls must be dressed in their hockey equipment upon entering and exiting. This limits the time that the girls spend together off the ice which makes it difficult to team-bond, especially when we have four different school districts that make up our team. We also must record their temperatures prior to entering the rink each time.
The loss of time in the locker room has been the greatest hindrance for the Rockport boys.
“We’ve lost access to our locker room this season which is the biggest challenge,” says Rockport coach Kyle Nelson.“The locker room is where we make a lot of mid-game adjustments and do a lot of our coaching. Without that, we can’t do those things. The game hasn’t changed too much at all really, it’s the off-ice stuff that’s been the difference.”
Another key change is a shorter schedule and less for practices.
“Since we can't use Salem State as our home ice, we have been scrambling for ice time for practices,” says Smith.“We only have 2-3 practices a week which is much less than previous years. So, it's crucial that every practice is efficient and productive. I also require the girls to do at home workouts and they send proof of the workouts to me on days in which we can't get ice time for practice.”
The boys’ team has struggled out of the gate, going 0-4 to start the 10-game season. There are positives to take away from the first few games, however.
“Despite our 0-4 record, we have shown a lot of positives,” explains Nelson. “Our defensive zone coverage and puck control have been strengths of ours so far. We’re looking to improve on our compete levels for loose pucks, and getting guys to the front of the net to create more scoring chances.”
Meanwhile, the girls’ team has bounced back after a tough season-opener. Marblehead is 1-1-1, with the one loss coming in the first game of the season against Peabody. The 7-1 loss to the Tanners was a difficult way to start the season, but Marblehead was down only 3-1 heading into the final period before running out of steam. The Magicians then showed great resiliency and improvement in their next two games, a 1-1 tie with Medford on Jan. 16 and a 2-1 win over Beverly on Jan. 18.
“We scored an early goal in the first and held the lead until about 10 minutes were left in the game, where they tied it up while on the powerplay,” Smith says of the tie against Medford.“We were happy with the effort, but it was evident that we must stay out of the penalty box. [On Monday] against Beverly, it seemed we took care of some kinks and pulled out the win.”
The win over Beverly is an encouraging sign for a team roster that is made up primarily of underclassmen – only two seniors and four juniors are back from the 2019-20 squad that finished 7-11-2.
“The seniors and juniors are great role models for the younger girls,” explains Smith. “I emphasized fundamentals at the beginning of the year and I think this helped get some of the younger girls caught up to speed.”
The boys’ team is also pretty young, with only four seniors back from a squad that went 9-8-3 last year.
“However, our young players have varsity experience,” says Nelson. “We made the switch from the Commonwealth Athletic Conference to the Cape Ann League this season, which is a much quicker pace. It has taken every player some getting used to.”
MERHS athletes playing on the Rockport boys team include freshman forward Quinn Brady, sophomore defender Michael DeOreo, sophomore forward Dougie Pratt, junior defenseman Colby Doan, sophomore goalie Jack Crompton and junior forwards Theo Parianos, Luc Moruzzi and Kayden Brady.
“They’ve brought a variety of different skills,” Nelson says of the ME athletes. “The Brady brothers and Dougie Pratt have brought a fantastic work ethic, high hockey IQ and compete level to the team. Moruzzi, DeOreo, and Parianos have brought more of a skill game to the team. More passive than aggressive, good puck movers. Colby Doane has brought a long reach and strong work ethic. Crompton has brought a great attitude and a great mobile goalie to the team.”
There are five MERHS student-athletes playing for hockey for the Marblehead girls in 2021, ranging from eighth-graders who are contributing at a young age to a junior who provides experience on defense.
First up are eighth-graders Abigail Amigo and Elsa Wood. Amigo displays a high hockey-IQ and possesses top-flight speed at center.
“She sees the ice very well and can get the puck up the ice in no time,” Smith says of the center. “She plays with a sense of urgency, which gets things done on the ice. She already has her first high school goal against Peabody.”
Wood is a center who provides a large presence on the ice.
“Although she's small, she can play against any size defender,” says Smith. “Elsa is also a very fast skater and controls the puck well. She shoots to score and has recorded her first high school goal against Beverly.”
Sophomore Amy Vytopilova is a sophomore who is looked to for her tenacity and her leadership.
“Amy has been on the team for several years and it shows,” explains Smith. “Although she is not an upperclassman, she's looked at by her peers as a leader. She crashes the net well and wins puck battles frequently. Amy is also a great passer.”
Junior Jane Whitten is a key piece for the Magicians on defense, utilizing her smarts to lock down the opposition.
“Jane is one of our solid defensemen,” says Smith. “She knows when to step up on the blue line to stop defenders. She listens to what she's told and executes it on the next shift. She makes smart hockey decisions.”
Located behind Whitten is freshman Lily Francoeur, who is part of the team’s goaltender rotation.
“Her fundamentals and size are great, and make it hard for her opponents to score,” says Smith. “Lily excels at communicating with her defensemen which is a hard task for many goalies especially when they are dialed into a game.”
The Marblehead girls were slated to play Masconomet on Jan. 23, Newburyport a day later and Gloucester on Jan. 27.The Rockport boys were scheduled to host Lynnfield on Jan. 20, then play Triton on Jan. 23 and North Reading next week.