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A new beginning for Woodstock Academy girls ice hockey

A new opportunity.

The chance to play Connecticut opponents.

The chance to make a state tournament.

And a whole lot of new teammates.

It’s certainly a new season for the Woodstock Academy girls ice hockey team.

One may argue it’s a brand new beginning for the program.

A lot of things have changed since the Centaurs finished 4-8-2 last year as a member of the Central Massachusetts League.

That association has come to an end.

Second-year head coach Eric Roy began the process shortly after last season came to an end.

He first contacted the Connecticut High School Girls Hockey Association to see if there was the chance to become a part of the in-state group.

There was and Woodstock Academy decided to make the jump.

“It’s a good thing in terms of exposure for the school and it helps give the girls a chance to make a postseason tournament,  get All-State honors and things like that so that the girls’ names get out there as well,” Roy said. “I think in terms of competition and getting the girls a shot at the postseason, it will be better than the Central Mass League. The games will be harder, competition stiffer, but it will be good to get the girls playing that level of hockey.”

To make that happen, however, things had to change.

The Centaurs had a host of middle school players on the team for the past several years.

The CHSGHA does not allow middle school players to participate in games.

“It’s always been the dilemma here; how do we fill the team if we can’t fill it internally ourselves? For years, we’ve opened it to the local middle schools, it was awesome, and worked well. The Central Mass League allowed it so that was a baby-step forward,” Woodstock Academy athletic director Sean Saucier said.

The much bigger step was made last spring when the Woodstock Academy Board of Trustees and Administration allowed the program to go the cooperative route.

Instead of being just Woodstock Academy players, about a third of the current 18-player roster comes from schools such as East Lyme, Wheeler, Fitch, Norwich Tech and Ledyard.

“We have a coach who is on board who has coached in Connecticut previously and that helps because Eric has some background knowledge and knew the steps necessary to become a co-op. He certainly chipped in and did his due diligence to us being a co-op member. Most of the 22 teams are co-ops, only five are self-sustaining teams,” Saucier said.

Roy started looking around for players from Eastern Connecticut Conference schools but then spoke to the Eastern Connecticut Eagles. That boys program consists of the majority of the ECC as well as some other schools from the Connecticut shoreline.

“The marriage happened because they had some girls playing for them and they were asking the Eagles to start a girls program. I called their coach and said I had a program, I just need help and there was the marriage. It may have saved us because we would not have had enough bodies on our own,” Roy said. “We lost our middle school connection, so this connection helped give us a team and it helped give those (Eastern Connecticut Eagles) girls a home.”

It may seem like a long way to travel to play a sport from as far away as East Lyme to the Jahn Ice Rink at Pomfret School.

There is just about 50 miles and 50 minutes between the two.

“I’m not surprised because as a parent, I do it,” Saucier said with a laugh. “Last spring, I traveled down to that portion of the state for basketball for my daughter (Kaylee). It’s actually relatively normal these days for a parent to travel like that for a sport.”

Plus, the girls hockey team practices in the evening three days a week which makes it more convenient for the families involved.

The number of schools could also increase.

“There doesn’t seem to be a limit to the number of schools that can join a co-op, that’s helpful,” Saucier said. “My vision is to be the Eastern Connecticut Eagles on the girls side and I talked to some of the parents we had at (the first practice on Monday and they seemed to buy into that.”

It has also made it a little easier to find games.

To be a member of the CHSGHA, teams must play at least 14 games against member schools.

The Centaurs are scheduled to play 16 against Connecticut schools this season. Even though Woodstock Academy is not a member of a conference and is independent, the closest conference to the school, the Central Connecticut Conference, agreed to schedule the Centaurs as a whole.

“The commissioner of the CCC is the one who does the conference schedule and he had all their teams play us. It was relatively easy to get games,” Roy said.

It just may take longer to get there.

The in-state league will result in more travel.

East Catholic in Manchester is the closest opponent.

“The travel is increased but that’s hockey,” Saucier said. “Hopefully, once word gets out across the Eastern part of the state that we have a co-op, word of mouth will, hopefully, draw more people.”