Unlike the basketball team or swim team, ice hockey is not just a BHS supported winter sport. In fact, the “tri-op” brings students from BHS, as well as Brookfield and Danbury High School, together to play as one team against other Division Three schools.
This partnership began ten years ago, in the 2001-2002 season, when Bethel and Brookfield joined forces in order to keep their students in skates. The ‘Ice Cats,’ which was named to support both the Bethel Wildcats and the Brookfield Bobcats, welcomed Danbury to the cooperative program three years ago. Being the only local hockey team for three schools does have its challenges.
Other area coaches report that the cooperative alternative creates an uneven playing field for schools that can afford to support their own hockey program. “A lot of us don’t agree with the co-op schools. We feel like we are the underdog, one school playing against three different high schools,” said Newtown head coach Paul Esposito to Bethel Patch.
The arguments against these integrated programs have increased as more and more teams are forced to join together in order to keep ice hockey alive. “It’s all about cost,” says BBD Ice Cats goalie coach Ned Costanzo. “This sport can cost up to 2,000 dollars for parents to spend on equipment. Not to mention the cost it takes for an athletic department of a school to purchase ice time at local ice rinks.” The need for funding causes teams such as BBD to come together in order to lighten the load that each school must pay. But, not all hockey programs need this support which is the rift that separates the Ice Cats from teams such as the Newtown Nighthawks.
In the opinion of BBD players, the tri-op has been nothing but positive. Ice Cat captain, Justin Sullivan from DHS says that being in a multiple schools team is “no different from any other experience.” The senior defenseman adds, “when you’re playing on the ice it’s not so different because we all work together to achieve. In school though, it’s not so cool because you don’t get to see all of your friends.” Clearly teammates are friends even if they don’t pass each other in school hallways everyday.
But does being in a tri-op give BBD an advantage over other teams? “Yes, definitely,” says Sullivan. “We have more talent to choose from with three schools.” BBD goalie Ryan Campbell also says yes. “We have more diversity with abilities and skills.”
Having more kids to choose from may give BBD more opportunities for talent, but should they be punished for coming together out of necessity? Keeping up a hockey program is becoming more and more difficult and the time when all three schools can afford to have their own team does not seem in the near future. Right now the cooperation is beneficial for BBD not because they are keeping up an impressive record of fourteen wins and only three losses, but because the teammates have a bond that surpasses town limits.
“I love it!” says Campbell with a big smile. So even though BBD faces some scrutiny from single school teams, it thrives on being a diverse force. And this Bethel-Brookfield-Danbury team is trying to make it all the way to the top this year by heading to SWCs and then straight on to the state tournament!