Last December, Watertown High School’s boys hockey team’s home opener was a time of celebration, as the Raiders raised a banner for the team’s first ever State Championship. This year, however, there will not even be a home opener.
Just two years removed from winning the MIAA Div. 3 State Championship, Watertown will not have a varsity boys ice hockey team. The numbers of players is too small and other options did not work out. The team has withdrawn from the Middlesex League and will only play a junior varsity schedule, said WHS Athletic Director Michael Lahiff.
Low Numbers, Small Players
Watertown hockey coach Mike Hayes said the team only returned two defensemen, five forwards and had four freshmen coming in.
The high school looked for a another school with which to form a co-op team. For a while it appeared they would be able to team up with Weston, but an agreement was not reached, Hayes said.
He had hoped to bring up some middle school students to fill the roster and field a team that would play an independent team.
Lahiff said he did not want eighth graders playing against bigger, stronger juniors and seniors on other teams because he feared they might get hurt.
Middle school players will be part of the team, Lahiff said, but they will be playing smaller teams – junior varsity squads. They would not be able to play otherwise, because Watertown Middle School dropped its boys hockey program.
The reason middle school hockey was dropped, Lahiff said, was that they found they were not playing other schools.
“We found we were playing youth hockey teams,” Lahiff said. “It was confusing because sometimes the coaches were teachers at the school, but the programs were run by youth hockey. We can only play other schools.”
When the number of high school players grows, Lahiff said WHS will start fielding a varsity squad again.
Coaching Behind a Different Bench
Hayes will be coaching this year, but not for Watertown. He said he plans to be an assistant at Arlington High School, the community where he lives and where his children got to school.
Hayes has been coaching at WHS for 13 years, the last five as head coach. In recent years he was offered other head coaching jobs, but he turned them down because he wanted to stay in Watertown. Hayes said he wanted to come back this season, but the situation was not right.
“I have three kids, and the oldest is playing hockey,” Hayes said. “Family is important to me, and to not do it the way I want to, and miss time with my kids – I had to step away.”
He has not ruled out coming back in the future, and he added that the team’s successes – a State Championship and two straight trips to the North Section Final – were only the icing on the cake.
“It was not only good teams, but great kids. That’s what is important,” Hayes said. “People miss what coaching is all about. It is the relationships you make with kids and continue for a lifetime. They are going to come back and be part of your lives.”