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They're playing hockey again in Norwich

In the pantheon of those who have sacrificed, examples would include Jesus, the Allied soldiers at Normandy, Mother Teresa choosing a life of poverty ... and hockey parents.

(Joking, joking).

Except if you are a hockey parent. You know the drill: Work all week. Trudge toward the weekend and then get rewarded with a 4 a.m. wakeup call from a warm bed. Drive an hour to freeze your ascot off in some godforsaken rink at 5 a.m. because ice time is more precious than a newborn (and we haven't yet mentioned hockey gear's odor).

At first glance, we don't seem to be much for hockey here in our corner of the world. In winter, it's mostly basketball and perhaps wrestling that earn most of the headlines. Oh, but there is a burgeoning hockey herd, happily playing again, having navigated the pandemic.

"I work at EB," said Neil Tanzosh, the treasurer for Southeastern Connecticut Seahawks Youth Hockey, "and I know a lot of guys who play in men's leagues. They have kids who want to play. I'll tell them, 'we have youth hockey in Norwich.' A lot of times, the reaction is, 'we do?'"

They do. The Seahawks — 130 kids in five age groups — are playing again from the RoseGarden Arena in Norwich. Hockey was another victim of the pandemic from Thanksgiving to Martin Luther King Day. But it has returned with the kids playing, limited spectators, but livestreaming so parents can watch.

"From a parent's perspective, it was really hard," said Tanzosh, who lives in Salem, but grew up in New Jersey near the Meadowlands and watched the Devils frequently. "I couldn't even go to the rink to watch practice or games with one spectator per child in most rinks."

It got worse. The Eastern Connecticut Conference announced a pandemic-related ban on cooperatives for the winter, leaving the Eastern Connecticut Eagles, comprised of 11 schools from the league, without a season.

The Eagles, who won the 2018 Div. III state championship, are perhaps the best example of hockey's growth in the region. They truly are the ECC's team with kids from Bacon Academy, East Lyme, Fitch, Griswold, Killingly, Ledyard, Montville, Norwich Free Academy, Stonington, Waterford and Wheeler. They're even competing in Div. II now because of their success.

The Seahawks are expanding, too, starting an all-girls' team, reflecting a national trend in growth. The UConn women's hockey team made it to the semifinals of Hockey East this past season.

"Last year, we started the all girls' team," Tanzosh said. "Not many organizations in the state have them. We're working on growing it because more and more girls are becoming interested."

The Seahawks (secyh.org for those who are interested) compete in five age groups: 8U 10U, 12U, 14U and midgets (high school kids 15-18). There's even a "house" team with 4- and 5-year-olds learning, but Tanzosh said, "even an 18-year-old could start learning if he or she wants to try it out."

Hockey always has its challenges, namely the cost and availability for ice time. But with the new girls' team, the success of the Eagles and their 11-school scope, hockey's popularity is rising in a part of the state that largely used to ignore it.

"It's great exercise for your kid," Tanzosh said. "Hard work and  discipline, learning some good skills that you can use in other sports.

"It's a team sport where the kids are close knit. You kind of get a second family. During non-COVID times, we're gone to Lake Placid, Stowe and Falmouth. Lots of hotels with families having fun. The hockey family."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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