While the North-South puck drops, the numbers don’t

The puck hardly ever drops on time for high school hockey games thanks to ice maintenance, warmups, events prior to, etc.

But last Wednesday, if you’re a fan/member of the Nashua hockey community, you didn’t mind too much.

The Nashua High School South-Pelham vs. Manchester Memorial game, slated for a 7:20 start, didn’t start unitl just after 7:30. That’s because there was a game prior to it on the Conway Arena ice that no one has seen in years:

A North-South junior varsity game.

Huh?

That’s why, regardless of whether or not Nashua South-Pelham returns to the the Division I tournament – they may need to win tonight in the rematch against North-Souhegan at Conway Arena to keep that hope alive – it’s been a good year for Nashua co-op hockey. The participation numbers, over 60 players combined, show it.

“It was great, are you kidding me?” South-Pelham coach Shawn Connors said of the JV game. “I’ve been here six years and we hadn’t had a JV program. It was awesome. I loved it, loved coaching the JV guys. We had a great time. The numbers are getting there. Hopefully we can keep that up for next year. I think we will.”

North-Souhegan coach Josh Lavoie was equally happy.

“It was a great competitive game back and forth,” he said. “The younger players have really come along over the season and it showed.”

Nashua athletic director Lisa Gingras was also was beaming.

“Definitely, to have more than upper 20s for each is definitely a good thing,” Gingras said. “Both programs have been playing in a JV league down at the Icenter in Salem so that’s been nice to give those younger kids some experience. Even though we have the numbers, some of the lesser experienced, younger kids may not be able to compete with the bigger, faster, stronger (players).

“It gives them some ice time. We were able to get in a couple of JV games here at Conway. And anytime we can get a North vs. South. … It’s great for those kids to get that experience.”

Gingras’ department dug out the old North and South uniforms, even though it was a co-op JV game, because they certainly didn’t want to buy new ones for just a few games.

Will we ever see those uniforms again on the varsity level? In other words, each program standing on its own?

Good question. The co-op agreements for both Nashua schools with Pelham and Souhegan, respectively, will extend one more season after this. Right now, they are needed.

Keep in mind that the North-Souhegan split is pretty equal, while with South-Pelham it’s tilted a bit in favor of South but a lot of the key players are from Pelham.

“We’ll have to make a decision next fall or winter, do the co-ops continue, or do they dissolve?,” Gingras said. “We’re definitely in for next year. Do we renew for the next NHIAA cycle? It’s a big question right now.”

It’s one that almost requires a crystal ball. You have to look two, three years down the road.

“That’s what we’re trying to do,” Gingras said. “I don’t want to pull out of the co-op and then two years from now realize we have to get back into one. It’s either we’re going to be out, we’re out, or we stay in and go that way.”

As amazing as it sounds for schools that size, the time doesn’t seem right for North or South to go it alone. It’s a huge gamble.

“I think we need to stay with the co-ops, I think we really do,” Connors said. “You can’t go back to an 18-man roster, or 18 kids trying out. You’ve got to have 30-40 kids trying out. If you have a JV program, you have a JV program.

“Putting these kids back into an 18 man scenario, is asking to get your head (kicked in). It’s not fair to them. … Fifty or 60 kids I understand not having the co-op (that’ll never happen,you can’t cut players in a co-op). Some 30 kids, 32 kids? You need to have it. That’s my opinion.”

While it’s sad both Nashua programs needed the co-op concept to keep going, it’s worked. Now it’s time to take things to the next level. More Nashua kids need to play high school hockey.

Tonight could be a big night. The rivalry will be a factor, as the Kings won the first meeting 4-2, coming back from a 2-0 deficit. South-Pelham is in what looks to be a fight for that 11th and final Division I tourney spot, but a ruling expected sometime today on Windham possibly having to forfeit games for using an ineligible player may ease the way for the Kings.

Either way, you hope the atmosphere will be as electric as it was back nearly a month ago. The crowd was large. The student fans were into it.

“It was awesome,” Gingras said. “Wish every game could be like that. … It was a great atmosphere.”

Let’s see if it can be duplicated tonight with possibly a lot on the line. Let’s be honest, hockey’s Nashua future is really in the hands of the Nashua hockey community. If kids keep coming out, and parents/fans stay fully involved, there is hockey.

That’s why every night is a big one for this sport around here, tonight included.

Oh, that JV game? It was 3-0 Saber-Titans.

“I’m excited about the future of North-Souhegan hockey,” said Lavoie, whose 3-13 team snapped an 11-game losing streak on Saturday. “Besides, it felt pretty good to beat South, finally. Would be nice to beat them (Monday), too.”

There’s nothing like a good hockey rivalry. Who cares when the puck drops, as long as it’s the puck that gets dropped, not the program.

Tom King may be reached at 594-1251, or@Telegraph_TomK.tking@nashuatelegraph.com