The ’Jacks are back on ice
Tupper Lake basketball teams will also have a season
TUPPER LAKE — Lumberjacks hockey is back.
After having no boys high school hockey team for the past four years, Tupper Lake is bringing back its varsity program.
Under the guidance of head coach Broyce Guerette, the Lumberjacks will step on the ice for the first time since their 2015-16 campaign ended, when they competed in Section X. Tupper Lake holds its first practice on Monday in preparation for an unexpected and shortened season that runs through the month of March.
Earlier this month, it didn’t look like Tupper Lake would have a winter sports season for ice hockey or basketball due to the coronvirus pandemic. They are both considered high-risk sports, and it first took the go-ahead from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to get the ball rolling for them to proceed.
In addition to hockey, the Lumberjacks boys and girls basketball teams — varsity and junior varsity — are also proceeding with seasons that are scheduled to run until the end March.
“I’m not going to call it a season. I’m calling it a bonus,” Tupper Lake Central School District Director of Athletics Dan Brown said. “I think most people accepted the fact that there would be no winter sports, and then came the OK from Gov. Cuomo. My cellphone, emails, they were just blowing up. It’s great news. We can get the kids playing sports again, get them off the couch, off their phones. It’s pretty exciting.”
Brown said approximately 60 student-athletes will be joining Tupper Lake’s five teams, which includes about 20 on the hockey squad. Brown said the boys and girls varsity basketball teams plan to play eight games while the junior varsity hope to schedule six matchups.
Guerette graduated from Tupper Lake in 2014 and was a standout for the Lumberjacks during his five-year varsity hockey career.
“I graduated a season or two before Tupper Lake dropped hockey,” Guerette said. “I guess you can say it kind of died with me, and now it’s kind of coming back with me.”
Guerette described himself as a rink rat and considers the Tupper Lake Civic Center the epicenter of town.
“Personally, I’ve been able to skate in all kinds of rinks, and none of them are better than Tupper Lake’s,” he said. “Our rink is the nicest anywhere. It was unbelievable when I was handed my own key. To grow up playing in Tupper Lake and then be a part of the team’s first year back — it’s a dream come true. I’m blessed the have the opportunity.”
Solid numbers at the youth level along with dedicated coaches, volunteers and a push from members of the community all played a role in bringing varsity hockey back to Tupper Lake. The majority of members of this year’s team have come up together through the bantam and midget ranks, and Guerette said that should be a positive as the start to compete against established programs.
Tupper Lake heads into its season with a young roster that includes two seniors, a junior, one eighth-grader and the rest freshmen and sophomores.
Guerette said when he told one player on the team, Jay Gagnon, that a season would take place, the defenseman was ecstatic.
“When I asked him how he was feeling, he said he was thrilled,” Guerette said. “He told me, ‘I never thought I’d get to play varsity hockey for Tupper Lake.’
“This is a group of kids who love to play and love to compete every time they step on the ice,” Guerette continued. “There’s going to be a learning curve. The kids are going to find out what varsity hockey is like. It’s going to be tough, but I think in the end, their skill will show through. I know they aren’t going to back down.”
Like the basketball teams, the ‘Jacks hockey squad will compete against opponents from school districts located closest to Tupper Lake, although there is a game tentatively scheduled against Massena. One rivalry Tupper Lake is hoping to establish will be against the combined team from Saranac Lake and Lake Placid. Brown said that he and Saranac Lake Director of Athletics Eric Bennett are attempting to schedule at least one game between the two teams in March.
“This has all been insanely quick,” Guerette said, describing preparations for the sudden season.
Tupper Lake had no plans on opening the Civic Center until hockey was approved. The school had held off on ordering uniforms, too. Instead, the rink opened on Feb. 13, and Guerette received the OK to order uniforms for his players.
“It was short notice, and we may not have the new uniforms in time for our first game,” said Guerette, adding that he had a hand in designing them. “I kind of wanted to make the uniforms another surprise for the kids. They are kind of a retro-style, paying tribute to the fact that hockey is back in Tupper Lake.”
Although the Lumberjacks will practice in their own barn, their games are all being scheduled for the road. Guerette said the team’s first matchup could be on March 7 at Salmon River, but the date is still tentative.
“It could be a very fluid schedule,” Guerette said. “My main goal this year is just to keep things fun. We weren’t really expecting a season. I’m going to play our seniors a lot, give them as much time as they can do. For the most part, our team has a lot of talent. We don’t have a lot of weak skaters.”
Like Guerette, Brown said the seniors on the basketball teams will also see a lot of playing time.
“These kids go from accepting that they won’t have a chance to play in their last year of school to realizing they are getting that chance after all,” Brown said. “It’s kind of a gift for them. It’s a year for the seniors. I’m pushing the coaches to give the seniors loads of playing time.
“I’m super-excited the kids are having a season,” Brown continued. “As full-time AD, this is what I literally live for. I love watching the kids play, I love watching them warm up and have fun, and when they’re out there, I love watching them be in the zone. I love seeing the passion on their faces after the game, win or lose.”