Biddeford High girls hockey coach questions decision to form cooperative teams

BIDDEFORD — Topping out at just over five feet tall, Biddeford girls hockey coach Marie Potvin doesn’t always stand out from among her players during a typical Tigers’ practice session.
However, even if you don’t see her at first, you’re sure to hear her.
Years of barking out instructions in frosty rinks can put a strain on the vocal chords.
At least it has hers.
“I have a unique voice,” said Potvin, hoarsely, in the quiet — and relative warmth — of the coaches’ office at Biddeford Ice Arena.
A voice, to be sure, and sharp opinions waiting to be aired, too.
No shrinking violet, Potvin is quick to express her concerns about the state of Maine high school girls hockey, which is entering its fourth year as a MPA-sanctioned varsity sport.
“You can tell I’ve got a hair across my backside,” said Potvin, who by day is a Biddeford Middle School phys ed teacher. “I’m getting a little fed up with all the conjoining of teams. I get why the MPA is doing it. But at the same time, I don’t know if those teams are looking at getting a middle school program going. I’ll bet you the teams that have a program in the middle school, are the teams that are going to be sustainable.”
Potvin has been zealously spreading the Gospel of girls hockey in greater Biddeford for years.
In the pre-sanction years, Potvin ran girls club hockey teams, and directed the Tigers to a pair of state titles in the old MGIHA.
This year, Biddeford had nearly 30 girls try out for the varsity, but such was not the case at many other schools, where lack of interest has seriously whittled down the numbers, as well as the quality of competition.
Currently, Maine has 15 varsity programs – down from the original 19 – and five of those are co-ops.
That includes the Deering/Portland combo, which was the subject of much hand wringing among those schools seeking permission from the MPA to keep their struggling boys programs from sinking.
“We’re not looking to conjoin with anybody anytime soon,” Potvin said.
Potvin said that to maintain successful public school programs such as those in Biddeford, York, Scarborough, and Falmouth, a lot of grunt work is essential.
“We go out and we find people to skate,” she said. “We don’t wait for skaters to come to us. We go get ’em. That’s how we do things here. My girls do. They do a good job recruiting their friends.
“I asked my senior goalie (Emily Brassley) to go out and find us young girls who we can train to be a back up goalie.”
Or as Brassley, who had a summer stint at a camp run by Boston Bruins’ great Tim Thomas, put it, “A baby goalie.”
If the “weakest link” principle holds true, the contraction of flagging girls hockey programs could make victims of the strong ones.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Potvin. “Half the teams are either private or conjoined. I guess the bottom line is that people need to look at what they’re doing with their youth programs. If nothing’s happening, you’ve got to make something happen.”