Steve Cheff, coach of the Maine Freeze girls Under-16 club hockey team, is the driving force behind a movement to put the first Greater Bangor area high school girls co-op team on the ice this season.
Cheff said the players would come from Bangor High School and John Bapst High School of Bangor and, “down the road, Brewer has a bunch of girls coming up and maybe we could incorporate them.”
Bangor High School athletic director Steve Vanidestine and John Bapst AD Rick Sinclair said they embrace the notion of adding a program that would give their girls another athletic opportunity.
Vanidestine has been recuperating from back surgery and hadn’t heard from Cheff and Sinclair said there are several steps that have to be taken before the plan becomes a reality.
Cheff had hoped to include Orono in the co-op, but Orono AD Mike Archer said his school isn’t interested at this time because the two girls who play on their co-op OId Town-Orono boys team, sophomore Makayla Brown and freshman Elizabeth Fortier, told him they’d prefer to play on the Old Town-Orono team.
If a school joins a co-op team in girls hockey, its girls have to play on that team under Maine Principals’ Association guidelines and can’t play on the boys team.
“We’re willing to do what we can to get it off the ground, but it’s still in the preliminary stages [and there is a lot of work to do],” said Sinclair. “You have to make sure you have all the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted.”
Cheff is holding an open meeting on the team at the Sea Dog restaurant in Bangor on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Anyone interested is invited to attend.
Cheff, who credited Dena Whitehead, wife of former University of Maine hockey coach Tim Whitehead, with playing an instrumental role in the development of girls hockey in the area, said he has already had two meetings with a dozen or so parents who are committed to the project.
He realizes there are several challenges.
Fourteen players were on his Freeze Under-16 team of which 10 would be available to play for the co-op team this fall.
And he is confident he could put together a co-op high school team with 18 players.
He said there were approximately 80 girls between the ages of 6-16 playing organized hockey in the greater Bangor area.
Cheff would have to file an application to the MPA six months before the start of the season, according to executive director Dick Durost.
The schoolgirl hockey season begins Nov. 5.
That would mean Cheff would have to have everything lined up within the next month, although Durost said there is some flexibility with that six-month deadline “if we feel the schools involved are very likely to move in this direction and they need a couple of extra weeks to get school board approval.”
Durost said the application would have to include copies of the minutes from the school boards when the concept is approved; the team name, which should include a combination of all the schools involved; and the uniform colors.
He also said the MPA needs to know about the process by which the coach would be selected.
Durost suggested that an organizing committee for the co-op team should outline the financial responsibilities of each school.
There is a rule that forbids co-op teams from having a combined enrollment higher than the state’s largest school, and Bangor and John Bapst would exceed that with a 1,638 total. Thornton Academy of Saco has a state-high enrollment of 1,384.
“But the MPA management committee is flexible about that, too. The management committee would have to grant the schools a waiver,” said Durost who added that the MPA encourages student-athlete participation.
“We want to create more opportunities for kids,” said Durost. “Co-op teams are the only way some schools can keep their hockey programs going.”
There are currently 15 teams fielding high school girls teams, eight in eastern Maine and seven in western Maine, and five of them are co-op teams.
The northernmost team is Winslow High School.
Mike Burnham, assistant executive director of the MPA, said all the schools involved in this co-op initiative in the Bangor area have extensive hockey resumes. And they can lean on the Orono and Old Town hockey communities since they have already gone through the co-op process for boys hockey.
Archer said since he has gone through the process that led to the co-op boys team, he would be willing to help Cheff and other individuals working toward building the co-op girls team.
Twelve of the 42 schoolboy programs are co-op teams.