Hockey opens season Saturday
The North Kingstown varsity ice hockey team – which battled back from the brink of extinction after the North Kingstown School Committee cut funding last spring – will take to the ice Saturday for the season opener against Narragansett.
Game time is 8:45 p.m. at the University of Rhode Island’s Boss Arena.
A couple of Jamestowners have made the team, including Charlie Tregenza, who is returning from last year’s squad, and freshman Anthony Antonucci. Two girls are also on the roster: North Kingstown’s Maddie Ward, who plays defense, and Meridith Rocha, who was one of the goalkeepers last season.
In all, about 10 players are returning from last year. Two other players have transferred from junior hockey to play for their high school.
“There’s a sense of rebirth here,” said head coach Steve Pelletier.
According to athletic director Howie Hague, the parents and students raised about $25,000 to keep ice hockey alive at North Kingstown. The players worked concession stands at football games, sold refreshments at the Wickford Art Festival, and raked leaves after Hurricane Sandy. Hague said the youngsters were heading off to work at 7 a.m. on weekends and not coming back until 5 p.m.
Along with the players, Hague estimated between 20 and 30 parents helped.
Hague said the ice hockey program had been established and was successful in past years, but over the past couple of years, the Skippers had not been competitive.
Then when the North Kingstown School Committee was forced to cut the budget, the hockey team was one of the first items on the list to go, he said.
“The kids had been playing for a long time,” Hague said, adding that they were part of a “tight-knit” group of hockey families. That was one reason why the school wanted to keep the program.
According to Hague, North Kingstown is ranked the fourth best school in the state. “A hockey team is a staple of a top-notch school,” he said. To stay on top, the school would have to offer the four big varsity sports, he said, meaning baseball, basketball, football and hockey.
Parent Bob Nabb of North Kingstown was one of the people who went to school officials with a plan to save the program. Nabb said the players and their families had followed the budget hearings at the North Kingstown School Committee and were aware hockey was on the cutting block.
“We knew it was a possibility,” he said. In June, the parent group approached the superintendent, the principal and Hague about a plan to reinstate the program. Nabb said the first step was to find out how much money needed to be raised. The parents presented a plan, and the school officials agreed.
Donna Fallon and Judy Nabb are both board members on the North Kingstown High School booster club. Nabb said they were instrumental in the hockey fundraising, as well as keeping the booster club advised of the activities. He also said that the Rial and Mancini families were significant contributors to the effort.
As for players, Nabb said seniors Anthony Pelleccione, Austin Zimmerman and Adam Nabb took on a leadership role to make sure there was a hockey team this year.
The parents and the players raised the money before Labor Day. A dinner and golf event put them over the top.
“The parents and the kids said they were not ready to call it a day,” Pelletier said. “They are diehard hockey fans.”
Pelletier wasn’t making too many predictions about the team’s chances, but he quipped, “If we score more goals than the other teams, we should do pretty well.”
He is aware of the Skippers’ record last year but is staying optimistic that this team will have better success.
Last year, the team compiled a 1-10-1 record, winning the final game of the season with a 5-2 victory over Cranston West. The team also won its opener in the injury fund game, but that result did not count in the overall standings.
But this year, North Kingstown has moved down to Division II, so the squad will not have to face the powerhouses like La Salle and Bishop Hendricken.
Pelletier, a former head coach of the URI hockey team, said in the first week of practice, the team has already shown improvement. About 22 students signed up for the varsity team, and he opted not to cut anybody, even though only 20 players will suit up per league rules.
Assistant coach Bill Bennett said the students have the advantage this season of learning from two college coaches.
Pelletier and Lou Izzi, the other assistant coach, have known each other since their schoolboy days at Moses Brown. They coached together at Providence Country Day School and at Johnson & Wales. Most recently they coached at Nichols College in Dudley, Mass.
“We’re looking forward to the season,” Bennett said. He added that and no matter the scores, he is confident the players will leave better hockey players.