Like most hockey co-operative team coaches, Richard Fortin understands the challenges of getting all his players on the same ice together.

In a pandemic, the challenges a co-op face are magnified when participating schools hail from differing counties.

“I know that the guys and myself are just happy to have the opportunity to get back on the ice, but we will be without three of our five schools for at least this week,” said Fortin, coach of the Capital Region Hawks.

The Hawks are comprised of players from five schools — Maranacook, Winthrop, Lawrence, Madison and Spruce Mountain in Jay. The schools stretch across five counties, including Somerset, Franklin and Kennebec.

One of them, Somerset, was recently designated “yellow” by the state, meaning hybrid instruction is recommended because of an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread. Schools in “yellow” counties are also encouraged to pause athletics until they go “green.”

Androscoggin, Oxford and York counties are also “yellow.”

The Hawks took the ice Tuesday at the Camden National Bank Ice Vault in Hallowell without their full roster. Players from Somerset schools Madison and Lawrence can’t participate in athletics yet, and Spruce Mountain moved to full remote learning through at least this week.

“We just have some added layers that we will have to maneuver throughout the season and we hope to have a full roster at some point soon,” Fortin said.

Fortin isn’t alone.

The Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse boys hockey program also faces a similar challenge. Lisbon is in Androscoggin County, so its athletics are paused. 

The Eagles held their first individualized workout session Monday in Lewiston, but were without four players from Lisbon.

Head coach A.J. Kavanaugh says he is doing what he can to keep the Lisbon players involved virtually.

The Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse hockey program skates up and down the nice during their first session of the season on Monday at The Androscoggin County Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Photo provided by A.J. Kavanaugh

“We’re going to have a meeting later this week and they will participate virtually,” Kavanaugh said. “I’m able to still be in contact with them, so I am going to try and keep them up-to-date with what we are doing.” 

The Eagles are comprised primarily of players from Morse and Mt. Ararat, with 21 of the 25 players coming from those schools.

“Sagadahoc County has been fortunate enough to stay in the “green” zone throughout the fall, and I know we are all praying that will remain the same during the winter,” Kavanaugh said.

While the Eagles wait on the rest of their roster to return, the team will develop the “next player up” mentality. 

“I know the guys will be ready to step up if this is the case when the games roll around,” Kavanaugh said. 

First year Winslow/Gardiner/Erskine/Messalonskee/Lawrence/Cony co-op girls hockey coach Anna Wright is dealing with difficult circumstances as well.

Four of the six schools in the co-op have paused athletics through at least this week because of coronavirus concerns.

The team has been conducting virtual meetings through Zoom and Skype, something Wright plans to continue until the team can get on the ice.

“It’s definitely been a new experience for all of us, but I’m glad we will be able to meet in some type of way,” Wright said.

Players from the Mt. Ararat/Lisbon/Morse hockey program warm up for their first session of skills and drills on Monday at the Androscoggin County Bank Colisee in Lewiston. Photo provided by A.J. Kavanaugh

The time away from the ice has Wright improvising on how she is going to coach her young squad.

“I’ve been able to focus on some things that I may not normally have been able to take a closer look at when we are on the ice,” she said.  “We’re a young team, but I saw the team really improve toward the end of last season, so I know what we are capable of. We are going to play hard and have fun this year, but we are really looking to build this season so we can take a big step next season and reach our potential.”

While teams around the state start up their skills and drills sessions, many hockey teams won’t have a chunk of their schools until after the new year.

“We aren’t necessarily preparing for games right now, we probably won’t have as much of an evaluation period in practice that we normally would,” Fortin said. “My goal is for each player to get better at something in their game this season. I am going to have the guys focus on as we continue through the different stages of the season,” Fortin said. “I just hope it will all work out in the end when the season comes, but I think we are basically prepared for anything to happen at this point.”

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