Dan O’Connell, the athletic director at John Bapst High School in Bangor, is exploring the possibility of combining with another school on a co-operative coed hockey team.
John Bapst has sponsored its own hockey program since 1990 but O’Connell said he is concerned by low numbers.
“Our goal is to always have our own program but we’ll do what needs to be done to give our students an opportunity to play hockey,” said O’Connell. “We want to make sure our kids have every opportunity to do what they want to do when it comes to extra-curricular activities.
“It’s really just a matter of numbers and our ability to keep our kids safe on the ice,” added O’Connell. “That’s the case with any collision sport.”
O’Connell said it is early in the process.
The Crusaders had 16 players this season and five will graduate. O’Connell isn’t sure how many freshmen will join the program next season and it’s hard to project because John Bapst is a private school that attracts students from several towns.
“We have some middle school athletes who have definitely shown interest in John Bapst and who happen to be hockey players,” said O’Connell. “But we can’t gauge who will be coming so we have to look at all of our options and be prepared for all contingencies.
O’Connell said there is no deadline for making a decision, but he wants to be as proactive as possible.
The Crusaders went 3-13-2 under first-year head coach Chris Tanis this season but eight of their 13 losses were by one goal. The Crusaders finished eighth in nine-team Class B North and failed to make the playoffs.
John Bapst’s roster was composed of two juniors, seven sophomores and two freshmen along with the five seniors.
John Bapst was 3-14-1 during 2015-2016 under third-year head coach Andy Stephenson but the Crusaders were 21-14-1 in his first two seasons.
The three possible cooperative partners would be Class A North Bangor and Class B North rivals Brewer and Hampden Academy.
Hampden Academy athletic director Fred Lower said O’Connell contacted him about meeting this week to talk about hockey. Lower said the numbers are good at Hampden Academy, which has good depth and expects a solid influx of freshmen next season.
The Broncos, who went 13-7 and earned the No. 4 seed in Class B North, had eight freshmen and six sophomores among 19 players this winter and loses six seniors.
“I don’t want to see Bapst lose hockey. But we have to look out for ourselves first,” said Lower.
Bangor coach Quinn Paradis said the Rams have plenty of players already and Brewer AD Dave Utterback said he hasn’t been contacted by O’Connell.
Brewer (6-12) had 22 players listed on its varsity roster this season and graduates two seniors. Bangor (12-8) was the fourth seed in Class A North and had 21 players
Brewer and Bangor also had JV programs while HA has had one in the past.
“We obviously want to provide an opportunity for our kids and we want to work with people who want to work with us,” said O’Connell.
There have been some successful coop arrangements in recent years.
Old Town and Orono merged five years ago and recently became the first cooperative boys hockey team to win a state championship with a 3-2 overtime win over Greely of Cumberland Center in the state Class B final.
In 2013, with Orono expecting only six returning players, Orono High athletic director Mike Archer reached out to Old Town AD Brett Hoogterp and the Old Town administration and the Old Town-Orono Black Bears were formed.
Despite their storied hockey traditions, including a combined 33 state championships, longtime rivals Waterville and Winslow merged last year due to low numbers and became the Kennebec RiverHawks. Second-seeded Kennebec (11-8) lost in the semifinals.
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