Plenty of Schools Contribute to Hartford Girls' Hockey Teamwork
Hartford goaltender Beth Potter knocks aside a tip try from Harwood’s Hayley Martini, second from left, as Hurricane teammates Haley Grigel (16) and Elizabeth Bergeron (17) watch during Wednesday’s 1-1 girls hockey tie at Wendell Barwood Arena. Hartford’s roster includes players from five different high schools, including Thetford Academy’s Grigel and Sharon Academy’s Potter. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Purchase photo reprints »
Hartford senior defenseman Elizabeth Bergeron, second from left, flips a backhand pass toward a teammate during the first period of Wednesday’s 1-1 tie with Harwood at Wendell Barwood Arena. Bergeron, a tri-captain, missed the first game of the season while on a school-sponsored humanitarian trip to the Dominican Republic. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Purchase photo reprints »
Harwood’s Taylor Yandow (3) gets her legs tangled with Hartford freshman Amanda Nelson during the second period of Wednesday’s 1-1 girls hockey tie at Wendell Barwood Arena. Nelson drew a minor penalty for tripping on the play. (Valley News - Greg Fennell) Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — This year’s Hartford High girls hockey team is like the United States of America: Everyone seems to be from somewhere else.
Nelson Fogg, the only head coach the 19-year-old program has ever known, would be in a pinch without outside help this season. He has a backbone of 12 Hartford High student-athletes, but — with the Vermont Principals Association’s member-to-member participation program as an ally — six other skaters from four other high schools have helped fill Fogg’s roster sheet.
They’re all Hurricanes for now, but Fogg’s squad includes girls who call Thetford Academy, Sharon Academy, Rivendell Academy and Oxbow Union High School as their off-ice homes. Leave it to a Hartford tri-captain just back from a humanitarian trip to the Dominican Republic to sum up life at the United Nations of Hartford.
“We’re teenagers, we’re kids, we all get along well,” senior defenseman Elizabeth Bergeron said after Wednesday’s 1-1 tie with Harwood at Wendell Barwood Arena, a result that kept Hartford’s season-opening unbeaten streak intact at 2-0-1. “It isn’t really hard at all to mesh with each other. When we come here, it doesn’t matter what school we come from. We’re here, on the same team, to play under the name of Hartford, even though we’re from all other places.”
Knowing that and being comfortable with it gave Bergeron one less thing to worry about when she left for a week as the preseason was coming to a close.
Working through the nonprofit development organization Bridges to Community, the 17-year-old joined a group of a dozen Hartford students and two teachers on a weeklong trip to the Dominican earlier this month. (Hartford girls basketball players Hanna Hausler and Jessica Barnum were part of the group as well.) Stationed in a mountain town an hour from the border with Haiti, the Vermonters built an aquaduct as part of a sustainable agriculture project.
While her hockey teammates went through their preseason paces back home in the frozen climate of the WBA, Bergeron plowed through 85-degree days, joining local residents to dig ditches and lay irrigation pipe, using physical skills picked up from working for her father’s landscaping business.
“I’m going to be a nurse, and I’ve always wanted to do a Doctors Without Borders kind of thing,” Bergeron said. “When this opportunity to arose to go to the Dominican Republic and help, I just really wanted to get this experience. … I loved the trip. It was a lot of fun. We hung out with the kids a lot. I learned that my Spanish is not good. It was a very good trip, full of very valuable experiences that I’m glad I got to experience.”
The trip meant Bergeron — who transferred from the Mascoma Valley Regional School District before high school because of hockey — would miss the Hurricanes’ first two games (one of which was postponed by a mechanical issue at the rink). Still, her teammates thought enough of her to vote her a tri-captain, along with Haley Grigel and senior forward Alexandra Fogg, in spite of her absence.
“We really couldn’t have a vote when she was here, because the kids were trying to get to know each other,” Nelson Fogg said. “The older kids didn’t know the younger kids and vice versa, and the seniors had never seen these freshmen. It didn’t seem right to do it earlier. But her teammates chose her, Haley and Alex, and I thought it was a really good choice. …
“Anytime you have an opportunity like that (trip), it would be selfish of us to deny her that because of ice hockey. I think, probably in the grand scheme of things, she’ll probably learn more about herself from that trip.”
Having become accustomed to participation from beyond since the VPA put member-to-member into place, what Fogg would like to learn, or least influence, is the direction of girls hockey at the youth level.
Member-to-member has had a growing effect on the Hurricanes since its inception four years ago. The VPA program brought two Thetford Academy student-athletes, Grigel and Linnea Burnham, and a third from Sharon Academy, Beth Potter, to Hartford at that time. Grigel is now in her fourth season as a winter Hurricane; Potter, who stepped away from hockey as a sophomore, is in her third. Thetford’s Elyse Lindahl joined last year; this season’s latest additions include Oxbow freshman forward Meghan Boardman, Sharon sophomore defenseman Morgan Morrill and Rivendell freshman goalie Heather Dexter.
The common link is youth hockey. Although spread out among five schools, most of the Hurricanes are familiar with each other from lower levels of the game. Social creatures that they are, girls who are friends in youth hockey easily bond when united on a high school team.
“Without those six kids, we have 12 players,” Fogg said. “They played youth hockey together, so they know each other. It’s not like we have to do introductions at the beginning of the year. What happens with these girls is they meet each other through the hockey programs, they stay in contact with each other, some of them are very close friends. They support each other in other avenues, they go to each others’ musicals. At some level, it’s a really nice thing for the girls to have.”
Reduced youth hockey participation levels — tied either to a reduction in the number of kids in general, the sour economy, the cost to play or any combination of the three — has become a common lament at area rinks. As much as he appreciates what member-to-member has done for the Hurricanes, Fogg didn’t have to worry about roster depth when the Hartford program started in the early 1990s because youth hockey kept sending players.
That isn’t so much the case anymore. Hanover High has dominated in New Hampshire high school play for years because of the Hanover Hockey Association’s robust girls program. The Upper Valley Hockey Association, uniting Hartford and Lebanon, and the Meriden-based Twin Valley Hockey Association tend to feed Hartford High. UVHA has no girls teams this winter, according to the association’s website; Twin Valley is fielding only an under-12 squad.
“We need to look at how we’re growing hockey in town,” Fogg said. “We haven’t grown hockey on the women’s side in a number of years, and the girls that do play for the Upper Valley team are split up among two or three schools. These girls played youth hockey together, along with a lot of other kids who are playing at different places, but we’ve got to look at growing hockey again in the Upper Valley.”
Until that happens, Hartford may as well adopt E Pluribus Unum as a motto: Out of many, one.
Greg Fennell can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3226.