By Chris Villani Staff Reporter/Columnist · January 26, 2011
Co-op Hockey Program Staying Strong
About six years ago, then assistant hockey coach Mike Mazzola was facing a bit of a problem, he was running out of kids to play. Hockey has always been something of a niche sport at the high school level, and is still very much in the growing stages with ice time and equipment costs providing obstacles even for larger schools. The solution for the Grafton high program was a partnership with Valley Tech, which six years later has been proven to be a rousing success.
"The BVT end of it came around because there were a lot of Grafton kids who went to BVT," said Mazzola, who is now the head coach of the joint program. "The idea was kicked around for a couple of years, and finally came together. A few years later he had an explosion of kids"
The MIAA allows for smaller schools to form co-op programs when necessary in order to allow more student athletes the opportunity to participate in sports that require more numbers then some of the schools could put up on their own. The Grafton-BVT hockey tandem has been successful enough that the program now has a JV team which allows even more kids to play hockey and provides some of the freshmen and sophomores who may still be learning the game a chance to gain experience before moving to the varsity level. As successful as the program is now, Mazzola says there were some growing pains.
"One of the big challenges was getting everyone to blend together especially as the numbers got bigger," he said. "We started with about five kids (from Valley Tech), now it's about a 50-50 team and it's working out really well."
Mazzola has made a point of recognizing both sides of the partnership in just about every aspect of the team. From uniforms, to hockey bags, to T-shirts, everything associated with the program has both the Grafton and Valley Tech names on it. Grafton even changed its colors to add in those of the Beavers. A lot of schools who do co-op programs only use the name of the host team, but Mazzola recognizes what adding BVT to the mix has done for the hockey program.
"The last six years we have been in the playoffs, and before that we were not very successful," he said. "We just didn't have enough kids and most of the better players went off to other schools. We are by no means a powerhouse, but we are very competitive and the kids are more excited about playing for better team with a winning record."
This year's team has struggled a bit with a difficult schedule to begin the season, but their head coach is confident in the team turning its season around, largely because of the ever present chemistry between a group of players from two different schools.
"We don't even think of it as two schools anymore," said Mazzola. "That has all worn away and we are just one program and it's been really great for hockey."