By Dan Guttenplan
The local hockey landscape will be changing in the 2009-2010 season when the Pentucket and Haverhill youth leagues combine.
The board of directors for Pentucket Youth Hockey and Greater Haverhill Youth Hockey voted in favor of a merger last weekend in an effort to form a more competitive, cost-effective league. The leagues, which have about 100 players each, have had to pay for their own ice time at Veterans Memorial Rink in Haverhill. The merger will make scheduling easier and perhaps decrease the cost of annual dues.
"Both leagues are seeing their overall numbers shrink," said Pentucket president Pam Atwood, of West Newbury. "Our kids are starting to play in more select league and private programs. This will help keep a hockey league going for our local athletes who aren't playing on the select teams."
The name of the new league will be Greater Haverhill Pentucket Youth Hockey, and it will serve athletes from Georgetown, Groveland, Haverhill, Merrimac, West Newbury, Atkinson, N.H., and Plaistow, N.H. The two leagues formed a merger in the Bantam division (ages 13 and 14) during the 2008-2009 season, sparking the discussion that led to the overall merger.
"That went extremely well," Atwood said. "We received feedback from parents and coaches, and everyone was very satisfied. It's a case of one group buying ice time rather than two."
Teams in the program will play 30-game schedules in the Valley League. Practices will take place twice a week, and the league will also offer a 14-week professionally run skills program.
"Nearly all of our games and practices are within a 30-minute drive," Haverhill president Bernie Hoar said. "We had several players (in the Bantam program) return to our program because of the joint effort."
Atwood also believes the merger will result in more victories on the ice for GHPYH players.
"By merging the programs, our teams will be more balanced top to bottom," Atwood said.