I’ve got a modest proposal to make.
And no, this isn’t about fixing the state’s economy by eating children (unless it also fixes unemployment, then we can talk). With all due respect to Jonathan Swift, I think my proposal can actually serve a purpose. I think I know a way to change public high school hockey in Warwick for the better, and if you’ve been paying attention lately you know that it’s something that desperately needs fixing.
I think Toll Gate and Warwick Vets should form a co-op team.
Crazy? Maybe. But at least hear me out.
Let’s discount Pilgrim for the time being, because they’ve had some success over the past five or six years and though they’re down this year, I would venture that they’re the most solidly positioned program of the three. Plus, there are simply too many kids in Warwick to have a co-op team of all three schools.
So let’s look at Toll Gate and Vets. Both teams are struggling mightily this season, and that’s nothing new. The Titans have one win and the fewest points in Division II, and the ’Canes have one win and the fewest points in Division III.
Certainly one season is not a reasonable sample size. Vets is headed for its fifth consecutive year without a playoff appearance, and it hasn’t won more than two games in a season over that span.
Toll Gate is headed for its sixth straight season without making the postseason. In those years it won two, one, three, six and four games, plus the one win it has this season. Granted the first of those seasons was in Division I and the second in Division I-A, but even that shows how rapidly things have gone on the decline.
In a state where most of the teams make the playoffs, the lack of success in both programs should be underscored. Last year, 22 of the 32 teams in the state made the postseason.
Want a good stat? Over the last five years, the only two teams in the state that haven’t made the playoffs at least once are Toll Gate and Warwick Vets.
That’s no easy task.
In today’s Rhode Island hockey landscape, forming a co-op team wouldn’t exactly be groundbreaking either. There are six co-op teams on the boys’ side right now, two of which – Cranston and Scituate/Tolman – were just formed this year.
That brings up another argument – tradition. Both Toll Gate and Vets have plenty of it. Vets started as a program in 1955-56 and has two titles (1986-87 Division B-I Small and 1992-93 Division III). Toll Gate started in 1973-74, and did what seemed impossible back in 2003-04, etching its name in history as the team that knocked off Mount St. Charles and ended the Mounties’ streak of 26 consecutive state titles. For good measure, the Titans won it again the next year.
I get it – that’s important stuff. There have been books written on Mount, and there’s a street in Woonsocket named after the head coach. Mount is a place that has won national championships and sent numerous players to the NHL.
Toll Gate slayed that dragon. It was news nationwide, and it should have been.
But that’s the past. The Titans wouldn’t be the first program with a storied history to go a different direction. When Cranston put its co-op together, it brought an end to an East program that had existed since the 1920’s. East won seven Division I championships.
Sometimes change is the only way to go. Heck, Hope won a hockey state championship in 1935-36. Not everything always stays the same.
The only flaw I can find in the combining of the programs – besides the potential school closing, but we’ll put a pin in that for the time being – is the numbers. Right now, both schools have decent-sized programs, and a large portion of those players are young.
But only two years ago, Vets was in danger of not fielding a team. It had to recruit players out of the school who had never put on skates before. Some of its players actually had to skate the entire game.
There’s no guarantee that the players on either team right now will be there for the long haul, especially if the teams keep losing. There are potentially greener pastures right down the road at Hendricken for talented players who want to play on winning teams, at least right now. Some players might even think playing at all is a better alternative than coming up on the wrong end of the scoreboard every time out.
If nothing else, it’s something to consider. Combine the programs, stick the new team in Division II and see what happens. The Rhode Island Interscholastic League has no problem moving teams up and down divisions like they’re desperately trying to find the combination to a safe, so this idea certainly shouldn’t be too outlandish for them.
Warwick high school hockey needs a change. This is worth exploring.
Kevin Pomeroy is the assistant sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.