Daniel Hand boys hockey coach Brian Gonsalves wishes the focus were on a few other numbers, like the two points Tatum Fitzmaurice needed to become the school’s all-time leading scorer, the 40 games the Tigers have won over the past three years.
The numbers instead are devastating: They only practiced eight times this season to play five games. They’ve been in COVID-19 quarantine 57 out of 64 days, and their fourth quarantine forced them out of the SCC/SWC Division II playoffs on Thursday.
“The frustration level is unquantifiable,” Gonsalves said.
Not fewer than 17 state teams have had to halt play and withdraw from winter conference tournaments: at least three girls hockey teams, four girls basketball teams, five boys basketball teams and five boys hockey teams.
Since the CIAC won’t crown state champions for the second winter in a row — it canceled last year’s tournaments in progress on March 10, 2020 — nor will girls hockey’s governing body, the conference playoffs were the only postseason experience teams had left.
“Are we limping to the finish? No. We learned from the fall,” SCC commissioner Al Carbone said. “We’re dealing with changes. We hope no other teams are going to be affected and teams take advantage of the opportunity to play.”
The opportunity may, in some cases, extend to teams that lost their chance at a title.
With the school in virtual learning, Litchfield withdrew its boys and girls basketball teams from the Berkshire League playoffs. League commissioner Fred Williams said the league has arranged to have Litchfield’s teams play the losing teams of consolation-tournament games, Game 7 for the girls, and the boys’ Game 8.
“That will be the teams’ second loss and therefore (they’ll be) available to play another game,” Williams said; dates and times will depend on opponents and gym availability.
“The main purpose of the tournament was to give the athletes more games to play, and everyone was guaranteed two games as long as COVID didn’t affect it, which in Litchfield’s case it did.”
Williams said many of the league’s junior varsity teams are playing games before varsity tournament games.
“We are … trying to provide as many games as possible for all players,” Williams said.
The pandemic has affected even teams that will keep playing: Kolbe Cathedral had a Thursday-night SWC boys basketball quarterfinal postponed because the school is closed for a “staffing quarantine,” according to an email obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media.
Principal Camille Figluizzi confirmed that no players were a close contact, though, and the Cougars are expected to play Brookfield on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the Shehan Center in Bridgeport.
Some aren’t so fortunate. Wolcott Tech’s girls basketball team won its CTC Nutmeg Division quarterfinal game on Tuesday, then learned it had a positive test the next day. Platt Tech received a bye into Tuesday’s division championship against Abbott Tech or O’Brien Tech.
Those five boys hockey teams fell within 24 hours, three of them on Thursday. The CCC lost East Catholic and the first-year, four-school co-op based at Rocky Hill. The SCC/SWC Division III tournament had New Milford drop out on Wednesday. Guilford and Hand followed after they’d played each other on Tuesday.
Beyond devastated for this group of seniors. To the players, don’t lose sight of what you accomplished. Things that haven’t been done in a long time. Unwritten rule: leave the program better off then when you got there. @EastCatholicAD
— ECHS Boy’s Hockey (@ECHSBoysHockey) March 18, 2021
Gonsalves said this was the third of the Tigers’ four quarantines that came from outside sources. They had a three-hour Zoom session Wednesday night, Gonsalves said, to let the players vent.
“I could feel (the frustration) through the computer screen,” the coach said. “They’re looking for answers, and there aren’t any. They’re putting all the facts out about why this shouldn’t be happening, how many minutes they were actually in contact with an individual. They’re not clueless. It doesn’t make sense to them.”
Carbone said everyone knew teams would have stops and starts (and in hockey alone the SCC/SWC has had 17).
“You hate to see it in the last week, when teams are getting close to ending their season on the ice,” Carbone said. “In this case, there’s no closure.”
Gonsalves said Hand plans one last skate together once their 14 days are over, a chance to get together one more time for a group that thought it could win a state title this year and last.
“In 5-10 years,” Gonsalves said, “these kids will still be impacting the program.”
Maggie Vanoni and Joe Morelli contributed to this report.