Source: Sherman Publications

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There’s ice, but no hockey team

by Trevor Keiser

December 18, 2013

There are no Wildcat icers lacing up their skates this season, according to Oxford Athletic Director Mike Watson.

Due to a lack of players they had to forgo having a hockey team.

"We kind of saw a bubble coming at the end of last hockey season," Watson said. "We graduated 13 seniors off last year's team."

Watson said the coach at the time David Hague and his assistant Rick Ignagni "fielded lots of people, whether they would be candidates or not."

"They even talked to kids who they knew who played on house teams that weren't really playing competitive hockey to try and ascertain what the interest was," he said. "We knew it was going to be an issue."

Another tough thing, Watson said was that the OHS team wasn't a recreational hockey team.

"The program had been built to the point where it was competing in the top division of the OAA with some of the best hockey teams in the state and getting kids out who had played hockey before just wasn't going to be good enough," he added. "It got to the point where some of the kids who were interested were maybe intimidated about it."

They ran into another road block at the end of last year's season when Hague stepped down as head coach, due to being promoted in his day job and his wife being pregnant with their second child.

"He and coach Ignagni were a package deal," Watson said. "They kind of went out together."

Whether Coach Hague stepping down had anything to do with it, Watson couldn't say. "There weren't really any families or kids saying 'we don't have any leadership, so we're going to go somewhere else,'" he said. "It was really just about how many kids were going to play."

While interviewing potential coach candidates, Watson said they had an alumni student and player running summer skates, but were only getting low numbers showing up.

"I think the summer skates actually hurt us," he said. "Once kids got wind that there was only four to six kids coming out they had probably already been double rostered with another Triple A team and probably just went with their Triple A team, so they knew what their plans were going to be."

Even after hiring Bob Rosbury as the new head coach, who came highly recommended by Hague, there just wasn't enough interest in the players to give up their league teams to play for OHS.

"Hockey is a strange one because kids have just as much allegiance to their travel team, especially if they're a Triple A kid as they do their high school team and in many cases more," Watson added. "We're one of those states where you can't play both at the same time, unlike states like Minnesota and Wisconsin where they have an arrangement where high school hockey season begins and ends before travel seasons begin."

They even became so desperate to try and keep a team that they looked into creating a co-op team with another school.

"All of those co-op agreements with state association are two year agreements," explained Watson. "Many of the schools we would have been in close proximity to or interested in were either in the middle of a two-year agreement or the enrollment maximum we would have had as co-op program would have put us over co-op enrollment limit because we have so many kids."

The only current sport that is co-op is boys' and girls' ski, he noted.

"We do that with Holly and that works out good for us because that's where our hill is," Watson said.

When asked if he was concerned about the future of OHS hockey, Watson said "anytime you don't have a team you're concerned about it."

"I'm concerned from the standpoint that we built it to be something pretty successful and it's going to be tough to get back at this point because we can get on a league schedule, but maintaining and retaining all of those non-conference contests are going to be hard for us again," he said. "Then we have to renegotiate for ice-time with our rink and all of that. All of those kind of administrative details we can figure that out, but we just got to make sure there (are) enough kids who want to play and can play."

Watson said they have made their facilities available for any players who would like to condition together and they are going to take a survey starting second semester to see if there is any eighth grade or current freshmen students who are "interested in playing at the level we compete." He plans on reassessing the situation at the end of February, early March so they can start organizing for next year.

"It's sad that's in not here (this season), but ultimately it is student conducted and student led," Watson noted. "If there is student interest (next season) we'll do our best to put it back on the roster of teams."