COLUMN: Take ‘big-tent’ approach to Wallingford hockey rivalry

COLUMN: Take ‘big-tent’ approach to Wallingford hockey rivalry

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A story line began to develop throughout the night on Saturday at Wesleyan’s Spurrier-Snyder Rink as Sheehan played against Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth/Coginchaug in the first battle of the crosstown hockey rivals on ice this season.

Does Lyman Hall’s co-op with Haddam-Killingworth and Coginchaug take away from the “Wallingford Rivalry?” 

There seems to be a bracket of local high school hockey fans, friends, and family that feel the introduction of outsiders makes the game not a rivalry, that Haddam Killingworth and Coginchaug aren’t part of the rivalry. It’s Lyman Hall, Sheehan, and no one else.

The argument can be made that the Wallingford rivalry has never been about just Wallingford. Lyman Hall draws from outside towns through its vo-ag program. Several students from Meriden and other outside towns have played hockey for Lyman Hall since the start of the program. 

Sure, there are a few more words in the team’s title now, but the addition of the two schools changes nothing in the rivalry. The players who are from the two outside schools have just as much stake as those who are from Meriden that go to Lyman Hall. 

Sheehan coach Dave Festa is on the side that sees the rivalry as a Sheehan/Lyman Hall thing only.

“Obviously, between the two schools there is a big rivalry,” said Festa following his team’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Trojans. “The kids get to feed off that, but It’s still kind of a Lyman Hall/Sheehan thing.

“When you start to look at the co-ops, though — and they should be breaking up the co-op soon based on the number of players coming in — it’s kind of hard to get excited about it going forward.”

I myself spent four seasons playing for Coach Festa at Sheehan and respect his opinions. Coach is a great hockey mind who has spent a great deal of time growing not only Sheehan hockey, but the Wallingford Hawks Youth Hockey. I will always agree with what Coach says. 

Except for right here. I think that in regards to hockey, Sheehan has found an amazing rivalry with not only Lyman Hall, but the Coginchaug and Haddam-Killingworth hockey communities. 

Coginchaug has eight players on the current co-op roster. Haddam-Killingworth has five. Lyman Hall is still the main feeder with 14 players. I do not know what the future holds with the number of incoming players, but those numbers right now do not warrant the disbandment of the co-op. 

What Coach Festa said is not wrong. It is a Sheehan/Lyman Hall thing, but the passion that players from Coginchaug and Haddam-Killingworth feel should not be regarded as misplaced. 

As the freshman goalie Sacco left the locker room following his team’s overtime win, co-op coach Rich Minnix informed Sacco of how well he regrouped after the first period and noted two big saves that kept the game tied in the latter half of the match. 

“I’ve been looking forward to these games all year, Coach,” said Sacco. “I wanted these games more than any other one.”

Sacco is a Coginchaug student. 

That’s the type of player I want playing in this rivalry: A talented, young, exciting player who circles this game on the calendar every year when the schedules come out and treats it like it’s the CIAC tournament. 

Give me a team of Saccos in this rivalry; I don’t care what school they are from. 

Along with Sacco, the co-op’s leading scorer, Kyle Roberts, is a Coginchaug student. Roberts feels just as much a part of the rivalry as the other players. 

“It’s really fun because at our school we don’t have a rivalry, really. Maybe North Branford in football, but it’s not that intense,” said Roberts. “It’s kind of cool to have everyone get up for this one and have that much fan support that we had today.”

Minnix only had this to say: “We are three schools, one big family, with a state championship as the ultimate goal.”

As for those who think that being co-op gives Lyman Hall an unfair advantage, the series is 5-4 in favor of Sheehan since the addition of Coginchaug four years ago to the Lyman Hall/Haddam-Killingworth tandem. 

Saturday’s game went to overtime. Last season, each team won one apiece. The games are competitive as ever. End of story.

I don’t think it’s wrong to feel that the Wallingford rivalry is sacred. It’s a rivalry that the whole town comes out for. It’s a community event that fills the whole town with pride. I get that. 

Let’s just not forget that the Haddam-Killingworth and Coginchaug kids feel like they are part of our community in some way. These are kids whose schools are not big enough to currently, if ever, support their own hockey teams. To comment that it is just a Sheehan vs. Lyman Hall rivalry is indirectly disregarding their passion and feelings and excluding them from something that is amazing. 

Let us use these games to come together, not come apart. 

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