WJHA squad takes the ice at Fenway
Between crazy practice times, tournaments around the region and a full slate of games, a youth hockey season can be a little bit of a blur. For one group of Warwick Junior Hockey players, coaches and families, there was no blur on Monday.
They’ll remember this one.
The WJHA Mite A team traveled to Boston, laced up their skates and played a game on the ice at Fenway Park. It was part of the Frozen Fenway series, which welcomes youth, high-school and college teams to the legendary ballpark for the hockey experience of a lifetime.
For the Warwick team, it lived up to the hype.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Warwick coach J.P. Toussaint. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.”
In addition to its status as a baseball mecca, Fenway Park became a hockey destination two years ago when it hosted the NHL’s Winter Classic. The Frozen Fenway series has brought the ice rink back to the ballpark’s infield, with several days of action scheduled throughout the winter.
The Jan. 2 slate included a high-school match-up between perennial Rhode Island power Mount St. Charles and Cathedral High of Springfield, Mass., but before those teams took the ice, the little hockey players had their turn.
The WJHA squad was among the teams invited by USA Hockey. The league got the call in part because of its success in implementing USA Hockey’s American Development Model. Roger Grillo, a regional manager for the program, did some research and learned of Warwick’s work with the model.
“They were looking for local programs who did a good job of fostering the American Development Model,” Toussaint said. “They wanted it to be kind of a pat on the back for doing well with it.”
The WJHA Mite A team was chosen as the representative and when Jan. 2 rolled around, the team – and a big traveling party – headed for Fenway. Between players, coaches and families, Toussaint estimated that there were close to 200 people making the trip.
And there were a lot of wide eyes.
“Everybody got there early and the coaches and kids went down to the field,” Toussaint said. “We tied everybody’s skates and there we were. I think the kids were in awe at first, talking about all the seats and how tall the light towers were. Once they got past the awe factor, it was just hockey.”
The team played for an hour in a cross-ice game, with the players alternating between a game and drills. While the focus was on hockey for the kids, Toussaint knows a few dads who would have liked to be on the ice.
“I think the dads were a little jealous,” he said. “Everyone wanted to lace up some skates and go play a game. I think the adults kind of appreciated it more. Some of the kids wanted to know why we were playing hockey at a baseball field.”
A fair question, but whatever the sport, it was a unique opportunity. When the game ended, WJHA took a group of 120 people across the street to one of the local restaurants for a team party.
As they sat around the tables, they were already reliving the experience.
It’s safe to say they’ll be doing that for a long time.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.