The Newburyport and Triton hockey teams spend all winter as foes. Starting Saturday, they'll spend the spring and summer as partners.
The introductory stages of a project to add two new locker rooms to the Graf Rink will continue Saturday when the Newburyport and Triton teams join together for an EWaste drop-off fundraiser at the Graf Rink. From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., players, coaches and parents will be collecting computers, VCRs, TVs and other electronics. XTechnology Global, based out of Peabody, will pay for each electronic item, and the proceeds will benefit a proposed project to install two new locker rooms at the Graf Rink.
This winter, Newburyport and Triton battled each other in the Cape Ann League standings all season, with Triton eventually outlasting Newburyport en route to a league title. The CAL rivals played two separate games to a tie, but no spectator was left unfulfilled as the players delivered 90 minutes of the most intense, hard-hitting hockey played at the Graf Rink over the last five years.
But here's the problem with the Graf Rink.
The enjoyable experience for the players always ends when they file off the ice.
Taking Triton-Newburyport games as an example, coaches from both teams entered both games stressing game plans of being physical. It's hockey, and the team that hits the hardest often ends up the victor.
The players followed the game plan for 15 minutes each period, and when the horn sounded, they filed to the locker rooms. At the Graf Rink, that means filing down the same narrow hallway to two rooms separated by a swinging door.
Coaches screamed instructions to the players between periods, and those were often audible to the opposing team. Players could talk trash to opposing players without any difficulty, and then both teams would file back onto the ice and play another period.
Some other problems with the Graf Rink locker rooms: On a random Saturday morning, a youth league player might venture into the same locker room as a high school team of players fresh out of the shower. Female hockey players or figure skaters often have to change into their equipment in the Graf Rink lobby as male players pass by on their way to their own private locker rooms.
On top of that, the Graf is the host site for the Newburyport Bank Tournament, which had 16 high school teams last year, as well as the Fournier Tournament, which had 110 youth league games. There is simply not enough space in the locker rooms to accommodate all of the teams moving forward.
The Graf Rink needs new locker rooms, that much is clear.
The issue is funding, as is the case with so many local renovation projects, such as Pioneer Park and World War Memorial Stadium.
The estimated cost of the Graf Rink project is $170,000. The funding will come solely from fundraising efforts and personal and corporate donations.
Newburyport hockey coach Paul Yameen and Triton coach Drew Wile are working together on the fundraising efforts, and the goal is to raise $7,000 Saturday. The coaches received permission to move forward from the Department of Conservation and Recreation as well as the lessee at the Graf Rink. The goal is to have the shell of the locker rooms in place by the start of next hockey season.
"This would alleviate so many problems we have at the rink right now," Yameen said. "We have gender issues, youth teams coming out of the locker room as high school practices are starting. It's not a good situation with the age groups interacting."
With the Cape Ann League appearing to be in the midst of disbanding — with Wilmington, North Andover and Masconomet potentially moving to other leagues in a three-year stretch — Newburyport and Triton are in a bit of transition period. Both Yameen and Wile have stated goals of moving their teams to Division 1.
If the schools do make the jump, they would be competing with the state's most talented private schools and biggest public schools. Across the board, Newburyport and Triton's rival teams would have better home-rink accommodations.
For instance, Wilmington made the jump to Division 1 last year. That squad's home rink is Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, which is the practice rink for the Boston Bruins. Needless to say, those locker rooms are an upgrade from what is currently in place at the Graf Rink.
"We're not looking for anything extravagant," Yameen said. "We just want to be able to house two teams. We want the kids to be able to leave their equipment in there. We want to watch film there instead of shuttling back and forth from the high school to the rink."
Wile first addressed the Graf Rink locker room situation six years ago in his introductory interview at Triton. The project was "shot down" several times, according to Wile, but finally appears to have legs.
"Women's hockey has been growing big time, and they don't have a place to go," Wile said. "If people don't think women's hockey is coming to Newburyport and Triton, they're crazy. If my daughter was standing in the lobby changing before practice, I'd think something was wrong."
Wile said the proposed plan would result in two 20- by 40-foot locker rooms separated by a shower. Parents and friends of Newburyport and Triton hockey players have volunteered to perform the labor. The teams have already raised $20,000 toward the $170,000. All interested parties can also attend an informational meeting next Thursday (7 p.m.) at the Newburyport Elks Lodge.
"We're basically going door to door," Wile said. "We have a ton of local tradesmen who will offer their time. We have to get the materials. The state is not giving a penny, the school is not giving a penny. This is strictly our responsibility as a hockey community."