By Mike Dougherty
RYE — The hockey program at Rye Country Day School is not equipped to go head to head with the New England prep school powers, but it’s had a step or two on the Fairchester Athletic Association teams over the past two seasons.
Essentially, the Wildcats are caught in between.
“What we are right now is a team that is building,” forward Zach Coppola said after scoring twice on Monday to help RCDS shake off a stubborn Fieldston team and post a 5-3 win. “We’d like to think that in a few years we can become a top prep school team. We have a lot of young players. We have a good coach. So right now we’re all working to kind of take that next step.”
That’s a very ambitious goal.
With two games left in the regular season, the Wildcats are 11-9-2. It’s a deceiving record. They own wins against the likes of Rye and Iona Prep.
A wide majority of the losses have come against teams cultivated to play big-time hockey.
“We’re hoping to compete more with the New England prep schools, knowing that we’ll never be with the Avons and Choates of the world,” said first-year coach Erik Kallio, who’d eventually like to be competitive with the second-tier programs. “You’d like the record to be better, but I wouldn’t want to run through a season, either, having only played five or six competitive games. I’d rather be right around .500 and have games that we don’t win if we don’t show up.”
The kids don’t seem to mind the sometimes lopsided scores.
“I don’t think we focus much on the record,” said Rye Country Day forward Kyle Halloran, who had a goal and three assists in the win over Fieldston. “We like to focus on the competition, and if we lose some games, that’s fine. We learn from the experience, so it’s good.”
And there have undoubtedly been some war stories acquired in the meetings against teams led by individuals one step away from playing for a top college program.
“We played Kents Hill, which is a top-10 or -15 team with a few Division I commitments,” Coppola said. “It was an 8-0 loss, but it was only 2-0 after the first and 4-0 after the second. They have more size and depth. They have four lines that can go every shift, four lines that can compete with our first line.”
The Wildcats have no plans to start accepting post-grads or repeats to contend with the powers in New England.
One way to help solve the identity crisis involves recruiting more Section 1 powers to stop by for a game. There is enough talent for the Wildcats to give any of the current state-ranked teams from the area some competition. And the players do come to life when there’s a local connection.
“We’d love to get more of the top Section 1 teams — Pelham, Mamaroneck Suffern — and keep on with Rye and Rye Town,” said Kallio, who’s previous stop was head coach at Mount Pleasant. “Those are well-coached teams, and they’re physical with some depth. It would be a good atmosphere for the kids.”