BANGOR, Maine — The board of directors of Bangor Youth Hockey and the Penobscot Valley Hockey Conference have merged their organizations into one for the upcoming season.
“This should make us more competitive and offer our kids a greater ability to play with kids from other towns,” said Shane McCannell, president of PVHC, which has been based in Orono.
Brewer Youth Hockey has declined to join the new group, taking a wait-and-see approach to the situation.
“We’re a very community-based organization, and we want to maintain that identity,” said Kevin Audibert, president of Brewer Youth Hockey.
“We have a dedicated group of coaches and volunteers,” said Audibert. “They’re willing to do what it takes to make it work.
“We have our challenges from time to time, but we work them out.”
If Brewer’s board decides in the future that it wants to join, that option will be available, said McCannell.
“We will always welcome them with open arms,” he said.
“I’m not saying we would never join,” said Audibert, “but until we see what it looks like, it seems we should focus on our own organization right now.”
The Maine Freeze, the organization that has conducted the travel program for Bangor, Brewer and PVHC for several years, will come on board fully in 2014-15, said McCannell.
Brewer will be affiliated with the Freeze for the coming year, said Audibert, “beyond that, I’m not sure how it will be structured, so I’m not sure what direction we’ll take.”
Chris Washburn, now president of the Maine Amateur Hockey Association, was in favor of such a merger when he was president of the PVHC and Maine Freeze a few years ago. He decided to present the idea to the organizations again in mid-February.
“In my 15 years [in youth hockey], it has probably been broached at least half a dozen times,” said Washburn.
He brought the four presidents together for an informal meeting.
“I gave my thoughts on how I thought it would work and let them do what they wanted with it,” said Washburn.
Bangor and PVHC approved it within about a month.
“PVHC decided it was time to make a commitment,” said McCannell.
The Freeze approved the merger more recently, hence the delay in its transition.
The four organizations looked at previous mergers in Maine as examples.
“Lewiston and Auburn merged within the last year or year and a half,” said Washburn of the entity now known as the Twin City Titans. Huskies Youth Hockey based in Gorham and the Southern Maine Breakers Travel program also have merged, with Biddeford Youth Hockey, the other half of the Breakers, likely to join next year, said Washburn.
Central Maine Youth Hockey was formed a few years ago by a merger of programs including Winslow, Waterville, Fairfield and Skowhegan.
USA Hockey, of which MeAHA is the state affiliate, has been in favor of larger organizations, said McCannell.
“[USA Hockey] found that organizations with greater numbers do better,” he said. “Numbers solve a lot of problems.”
Two of the problem areas are sufficient volunteers and sufficient players for what an organization is trying to accomplish.
“We’re all having trouble getting enough volunteers,” McCannell said.
With more players in each age group, fewer volunteers would be needed.
“By consolidating, we can use the volunteers that want to step up,” said McCannell.
“You can eliminate the duplicate volunteer work,” freeing up some volunteers for other posts, said Washburn.
The benefit to having more players in each age group is they get the appropriate amount of instruction.
“When there are only 8-10 kids in a certain age group, it’s hard to separate them” into those that can be moved ahead and those that need more instruction, said McCannell.
“Now, with 30 kids, you can push [ahead] the kids that need to be pushed and take more time with the ones who need more one-to-one time,” he said.
McCannell pointed out that nothing is expected to change in use of the Bangor-area rinks: Alfond Arena in Orono, Sawyer Arena in Bangor and Penobscot Ice Arena in Brewer.
“We’ll continue to use all three rinks,” he said. “There’s not usually a free hour during the week.”
Washburn said that more efficient use of the ice was a goal he saw as a possibility when he was the scheduler for PVHC and the Freeze.
“We might have 12 kids at Alfond and 20 at Bangor at the same time, same age group,” said Washburn. “Getting 40 kids on the ice at once would be better.”
That, in turn, would free up ice time for other age groups to get an additional practice session.
With the changes to the structure of travel hockey in recent years, Washburn said more organizations have become more comfortable working together.
“It’s not all us or them,” said Washburn.
In the end, he pointed out, it’s all about what’s best for the kids, who range in ages from 6 to 18.
“Kids just want to wear a jersey and play hockey,” said Washburn. “If we can find a more cost-effective way to do it, we should try.”