On January 3rd, newly promoted Masuk boys hockey coach Zack Vidmosko left to pursue a job closer to home, leaving a vacancy that had to be filled before the season began.
In desperation, Masuk Athletic Director John DeGennaro turned to a familiar face for help, Andy Townsend.
Townsend has been part of the Masuk hockey family for more than 16 years. He coached the boys team for 13 years before stepping down in 2018 to focus on the girls’ varsity team he helped launch.
During the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons, Townsend impressively was able to coach both the boys and girls hockey teams at the same time, so when he received the call from DeGennaro he knew what he had to do.
“I was told in early January, I heard that the coach was changing location,” Townsend said. “(DeGennaro) reached out and I told him if he needed somebody I could help him out. Obviously, he was in a jam because of how close it was to the season.”
Since leaving the boys team, Townsend continued to build up the girls program he created five years ago.
“I initially left because I also started the girls team,” Townsend said. “It became tough to do both teams at the same time. I did that for a couple of years with my own kids at home so I had to choose one. The boys program was in a good spot and I wanted to help grow the girls program.”
The building of the girls program is still in the beginning stages in its fifth season. The team has expanded into a six-school coop over the years.
“With girls hockey and not always getting the prime ice slots, you’re stuck with what you get,” West Haven-SHA girls hockey coach Erin Blake said. “From having a five-team coop, he’s got a lot of schools and he brings those girls together like one.”
This season the team consists of players from Masuk, Joel Barlow, Newtown, Lauralton Hall, Shelton, and New Milford.
While Townsend’s boys team will go head to head with Newtown, he has coached the girls from that same rival school.
The girls team struggled to a 1-19 record a season ago, but seven of those losses were by one goal.
“The girls are going to be much improved this year,” Townsend said. “We are still a young team and a new program so we struggled the last couple of years. I anticipate us being much more competitive than in the past.”
This is the third season Townsend will coach both teams. He helped the boys team to the Division III championship game in 2015. The Panthers have suffered first round losses since.
“I still know what has been going on with the boys program, I know who the players are,” Townsend said. “The seniors now, I coached as freshman in my last year as the boys coach. It has been an easy transition for us.”
Having dealt with the logistics in the past, Townsend has found ways to simplify his complex task of managing two schedules.
“For the practices, we try to get them back to back,” Townsend said. “It hasn’t been that big of a deal for practices because we can usually use the same rink. Logistically, it’s really not that bad.”
This year the main difficulties with practices have been keeping teams separated at the rinks to ensure social distancing.
“It has been a little bit more tricky than in the past when it came to scheduling games,” Townsend said. “We try to do some boys home games on Saturdays and girls on Fridays, try to stagger it. Once in a while we’ll have two games on the same day.”
This season Townsend will have three separate occasions where he will have two games to coach in a single day.
“When that happens, we usually are given a later start time,” Townsend said. “Everybody is pretty accommodating to help me out. I think in the two years that I did both, I think I missed one varsity girls game.”
Townsend will face different challenges this season as safety precautions will come into play.
The most pressing issue that had to be worked through was how to handle a potential quarantine situation if one of his teams came was exposed to COVID.
“Each team has an assistant coach that is just for that specific team,” Townsend said. “If the boys have to quarantine and we have to quarantine, we have someone who can handle the girls for that time frame.”
Townsend is well liked among his fellow coaches. Many are in awe of his ability to manage so many different things.
“I’m a huge Andy fan, he is a standup guy who does it all. He has done the boys and girls at the same time while most of us are struggling to do one team,” Blake said. “And he does that, along with his family and teaching so I can’t say enough about the guy.”
For Townsend, who left the boys team to spend more time at home, this season will likely be the most difficult yet.
“It’s honestly even more challenging now,” Townsend said. “My daughter is nine, my son is six and they’re both playing hockey as well among other sports. What it really came down to was I had spent thirteen years coaching the boys and I didn’t want to see them put in a bad situation. I have a soft spot for Masuk hockey.”
It takes a rare breed to display the time and passion it takes for someone to coach two teams in one season.
“Any coach will tell you it is rewarding and is a great job,” Newtown boys hockey coach Paul Esposito said. “I am sure Andy has his hands full, but he is doing it for the love of the game. As a coach on the rival bench, he is passionate and knowledgeable. He puts his all into developing a program and you can see that in the years we’ve coached against each other.”