North Shore hockey merger paying dividendsHIGH SCHOOL BOYS HOCKEY: Bitterness has given way to a feeling of camaraderie along the North Shore as community members in Silver Bay and Two Harbors celebrate their combined high school boys hockey program.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Bitterness has given way to a feeling of camaraderie along the North Shore as community members in Silver Bay and Two Harbors celebrate their combined high school boys hockey program.
The newly christened North Shore Storm took root last summer when the school boards of the rival communities agreed to merge the programs, primarily because of declining numbers. After some contentious public discussions regarding implementation of the program, players and coaches say they are bonding together and proving the merger is a success.
“It’s been going well from the start,” said Steve Wasko, who spent the past 15 years as Two Harbors head coach and is co-coaching with Shawn Bartlette this season. “Once we found out this was happening, Shawn and I got together during the summer several times and started mapping things out and getting to know each other.”
Most players attended a preseason meeting at Grand Superior Lodge in order to break the ice before they hit the ice.
“We knew there was going to be a little anxiety, but the easiest way to get past that was to get everyone together and talk about what this was going to look like,” Bartlette said. “The main thing was getting the players together and making sure they knew that we were going to be a team and needed to communicate well with each other.”
Apparently, it’s working.
North Shore is 9-5 entering tonight’s game against Virginia-Mountain Iron-Buhl at Rukavina Arena in Silver Bay.
“It’s going pretty good so far,” said senior center and co-captain Austyn Wasko, who spent the previous three years on the Two Harbors varsity. “We have more wins than we would have had if we weren’t combined. It turned out better for both of us.”
Two Harbors was 6-20-1 last season and Silver Bay was 14-12.
“Winning does take care of a lot of things,” Bartlette said. “Neither program has had a lot of success in the past couple years. It’s good, not only for the kids who have worked so hard for it, but it’s good to see excitement in the community again.”
Home games are split between Rukavina and Lake County Arena in Two Harbors, while practices have evened out between the sites as well. Coaches say they strived not to worry about who was from which community when choosing a varsity team.
“We wanted to eliminate an us-vs.-them mentality,” Steve Wasko said. “We wanted to make it one. When we are looking at player personnel, it’s just one group. We weren’t looking at having an equal amount of this or an equal amount of that.”
Austyn Wasko, who counts himself as a skeptic initially, now says team chemistry is building. He’s rotated on a line with Silver Bay students Jonah Koehler, Luke Small and Brad Rowlee.
“I wasn’t too sure how it would go joining together because they were our rival team — but we’ve been getting along really well,” he said. “It’s been a lot more positive because we have a lot more wins. People seem to be happy how we’re doing this year.”
Senior defenseman Brock LeBlanc, a fellow co-captain from Silver Bay, agrees.
“As far as the rival thing goes, everyone is working together and nobody is fighting,” LeBlanc said. “Us captains have a responsibility of helping everyone getting along.”
Students were able to work together, too, to choose a nickname. Storm won out over Lakers, Stars and Steelheads.