John Bapst celebrates after scoring a goal against Hampden in 2015. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

Even though John Bapst Memorial High School’s attempt to merge with Hampden Academy in a cooperative schoolboy ice hockey team was shot down by the Hampden athletic committee, Crusaders athletic director Dan O’Connell said there are positive signs for his program.

O’Connell had made a proposal to Hampden Academy AD Fred Lower because he was concerned about dwindling numbers of players.

But O’Connell said the situation “seems to have created a sense of urgency” and the numbers for the summer hockey program are up.

“We have a good influx of ninth-graders and we have a couple of other kids in the summer program who didn’t come out for the team last year,” O’Connell said. “That will add to our depth. We have 18 in the summer program.”

“So we’re moving forward with our program and we’re off to a great start,” he added.

John Bapst of Bangor, which has had a varsity hockey program since 1990, had only 16 players last season and five of them graduated.

O’Connell said Lower and other Hampden officials were gracious in considering John Bapst’s co-op proposal.

The Hampden athletic committee decided against the merger primarily because it meant their cooperative team would have had to move up from Class B to Class A. That would have resulted in a significant jump in travel costs and better overall competition.

“Understandable,” O’Connell said. “Fred did a tremendous job going through the steps with me. Hampden was great to us. They decided to go in a different direction, and I wish them nothing but the best.”

“In hindsight, it worked out OK. We’re excited to push our own program forward,” he added.

O’Connell said he didn’t approach Bangor High or Brewer officials about forming a cooperative team. Bangor is already in Class A, and a merger with Brewer probably would have forced the Witches to move up to Class A.

Brewer had 22 players on its roster and graduated just two while Bangor had 21 players. Bangor and Brewer also had JV programs.

John Bapst went 3-13-2 under first-year head coach Chris Tanis last season, but the Crusaders lost eight games by one goal. They missed the Class B North playoffs after they finished eighth in the Heal Points standings.

They had five seniors, two juniors, seven sophomores and two freshmen.

They were 3-14-1 the previous year under coach Andy Stephenson after he had guided them to a 21-14-1 mark in his first two seasons.

O’Connell believes his school should be able to attract players in the future.

“We have a lot to offer outside of 18 (regular-season) hockey games each year. There are a number of reasons why ninth-graders are attracted to our school,” O”Connell said. “It’s always exciting to give our student-athletes an opportunity to play the sport they love.”

He also noted that their hockey boosters group has been supportive, and Tanis has been working hard with the team this summer.

“Everybody keeps working every day to get better,” O’Connell said.

John Bapst is a private school, and students from surrounding towns that don’t have their own high schools can attend the school for free. Their districts pay a state-mandated tuition.

“Like every other school, we market our program and hope middle schoolers choose John Bapst. We will continue to work to help get them here,” O’Connell said.

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