For years, high school hockey in the state of Rhode Island has had one coaches association, encompassing both the boys’ and the girls’ side of the sport.
This season, with the expansion of girls’ hockey to include two new teams, the coaches have decided to form a separate body – the Rhode Island Girls Hockey Coaches Association (RIGHCA) – in an effort to help the upward trend continue.
“Talking to some of the veteran coaches who have been around since girls’ hockey has been implemented, close to 10 years ago, this is something they’ve been wanting to do for a long time,” said Dave Tibbetts, the head coach of the Warwick team and secretary of the RIGHCA. “All the girls coaches, we have a great group of people who are working towards bettering girls hockey.”
The idea of having a separate association for the girls’ side was not realistic in years past, as there were only five teams statewide when girls’ hockey became a Rhode Island Interscholastic League sport in 2002.
That number had risen to nine as of last year and now stands at 11 with the addition of a Lincoln team and a South County co-op team, which is comprised of Narragansett, North Kingstown and South Kingstown students.
Beyond that, the Cranston co-op team that had formerly just been made up of students from Cranston East and Cranston West, added East Greenwich to its program. The team that was formerly just Barrington and Mt. Hope also expanded, as it brought Portsmouth on board.
In just 10 years, Rhode Island has expanded from having seven schools involved to now having 19.
“The league is bending the co-op rules a little bit with girls’ hockey because it’s a sport that they want to succeed,” Cranston athletic director Mike Traficante said. “It’s just in an effort to get more girls playing hockey and hopefully it snowballs.”
The new coaches association is made up of all 11 girls’ coaches and four board members. North Smithfield coach Bill Nangle serves as the president, Smithfield coach Frank Varrecchione is vice president, Barrington coach Deneen Stebenne is the treasurer while Tibbetts is the secretary.
Already, the formation of the association has made a difference.
Since Rhode Island girls’ hockey has been in existence, the teams have all played in one division. This season, though, there are two divisions, with the hope being that more schools will get a chance to compete with teams that have similar resources and talent levels.
“Just having the two divisions this year, that took a lot of work to get that done,” Tibbetts said. “Last year we were all in one division.”
In one division, called the “Emma Division,” traditional powers Mount St. Charles, La Salle, Burrillville and Bay View are the only members. The other division, the “DeCosta” Division contains Warwick, Cranston, Barrington, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Lincoln and South County.
At the end of the season, there will be two titles to play for as opposed to the one that has been consistently won by only two teams – Mount has won six state titles, while Bay View has won three.
There are other issues that the association is taking on as well.
It’s fighting for 15-minute periods, although that will not come into effect this season. It also wants a more equitable schedule, with the girls’ teams getting similar treatment to the boys’ programs.
“For instance, Toll Gate boys play more than half their games at their home rink,” Tibbetts said. “We play four games at our home rink.”
In trying to sort through those issues, the ultimate goal is to continue to foster the sport’s growth around the state.
Cranston head coach Ashley Pagliarini has seen the growth from a different perspective, as she had to leave the state during her time in high school to even have a chance to play hockey.
“Our girls are very lucky they have a team to play on,” Pagliarini said in an email. “When I was growing up in Cranston going into high school, there weren't any girls’ teams yet so I ended up going away to Kimball Union Academy, a prep school in New Hampshire, when I was 14 and later did a post graduate year at Cushing Academy before attending URI. I think it's great to see girls’ hockey growing in R.I. and I'm just happy to be a part of it.”
The coaches association is another step in the right direction.
“We want to improve the sport and help each other do that,” Tibbetts said.