Woodstock Academy boys’ hockey head coach Kevin Bisson has few things he can be sure of this season.
Although there is one thing he’s confident that he will know when all is said and done in March.
“What is going to be asked of these kids is way above and beyond,” Bisson said. “We’re going to get a good sense for who truly wants to be here. Who truly wants to play because they love it.”
It’s going to be adventure.
A very short adventure.
Due to the pandemic, the Centaurs have seen their 20-game season whittled down to seven or eight games (counting a scrimmage on Feb. 6).
One of the biggest obstacles is that the league to which Woodstock Academy belongs, the Nutmeg Conference,  has only five teams to begin with; the Centaurs, Housatonic-Northwestern Regional, Tri-Town, Eastern Connecticut Eagles and Suffield-Granby-Windsor Locks.
Those numbers slimmed down when the Housatonic Co-op learned it would not have a home ice rink and would not be allowed to travel long distance to play a game due to the pandemic..
SGWL and Tri-Town then joined the Central Connecticut Conference for this season only and the Eastern Connecticut Eagles learned their host school, Fitch, would not sponsor them this season.
Fortunately, SGWL and the Eagles, who will play as a club team, will play the Centaurs twice.
The Centaurs also picked up a rare out-of-league game with Xavier in Middletown on President’s Day and may also still get a game with Tri-Town.
That said, there will be no league title to play for and there will not be a state tournament.
“We’re not playing for titles or awards, but we will still be competing and we have to take that out of this,” Bisson said. “The games are still games when all is said and done. You want to go in and approach it with that mindset and not think that it doesn’t matter because it does. It will be memories for these kids down the line.”
Due to the closure of the Jahn Ice Rink at the Pomfret School, Woodstock Academy will have to travel south for about an hour to play home games and practice at the RoseGarden Ice Arena in Norwich.
The Centaurs will not be able to utilize the locker rooms meaning the team will have to show up fully dressed.
It will only be able to put on helmets, skates and gloves at the rink.
“I don’t where or how they are getting dressed in the bus on the way and back. They can’t get dressed in the parking lot because it’s going to be cold,” Bisson said.
It is possible some of those restrictions may be loosened soon to better accommodate teams.
It’s just one of the logistical issues the team faces this season.
Another is just how physically fit will they be.
“We are talking five weeks versus three months with these kids. The hard truth is that a regular season is only three months which is not that long to teach, guide and direct these kids. There is a lot of personal accountability outside of the hockey season. They have to train in the offseason, skate in the offseason, work on skills, drills and conditioning. There is a concern that a lot of these kids haven’t been physically able to do these things because they have been confined to home or don’t have ice to skate on,” Bisson said.
There will be little time to fix that during the season.
The Centaurs will have just two practices and, for the most part, one game per week for five weeks.
Then, the season is over.
Generally, the Centaurs practice three times a week and play two games.
In addition, the program usually plays 12 junior varsity contests.
Those will not take place this season.
“It’s a major concern,” Bisson said of the lack of JV games. “For the freshmen, in particular, who may not receive a lot of varsity time, to not have the ice time, the time to build camaraderie in a game setting is very difficult. The reduced practice ice will take away from what we normally strive to build and achieve.”
Like basketball players, hockey players will have to wear masks on the ice in addition to their helmets.
Bisson, who also coaches youth hockey, said he doesn’t see that as an issue since his two young sons play with masks on and he coaches with one on. He admits it’s an adjustment but not one that reaches the level of an excuse to not do something.
There will also have be plenty of self-discipline.
“The big fear, and this is a message that these kids will hear over and over, is that they have to be safe in so many different ways. One person can derail the entire season because of what it will mean if one person catches COVID. It would be a heartbreaker when you only have a five-week season to begin with,” Bisson said.
Despite all of that, Bisson said there are plenty of reasons to get after it in 2021.
“We want to be sure we are doing right by the seniors, but also, that we’re ushering in the next wave of what the program will be. The freshmen, sophomores and juniors, will need to pick up the torch and carry it from here. Hopefully, we continue to spread the message of what the team and culture should be and the right way to do things and not just look at this as a throw away year. We want it to be a successful season,” Bisson said.
The schedule:
Feb. 6:   vs. Suffield-Granby- Windsor Locks (at RoseGarden Ice Arena, Norwich)     7:15 p.m.  
Feb. 13: vs. Eastern CT Eagles (at RoseGarden Ice Arena, Norwich)     7:15 p.m.
Feb. 15: at Xavier 6:30 p.m.
Feb. 20: at Northeastern (at Bolton Ice Palace) 7:15 p.m.
Feb. 26: at Suffield-Granby-Windsor Locks     7:15 p.m.
Feb. 27: vs. Eastern Connecticut Eagles (at RoseGarden Ice Arena, Norwich)    7:15 p.m.
March 6: vs. Rocky Hill (at RoseGarden Ice Arena, Norwich)     7:15 p.m.
Marc Allard
Director of Sports Information
The Woodstock Academy


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