ORLEANS — It is Friday night, Nov. 15 and the Charles Moore Arena is filled with family members and fans cheering on the Lower Cape Coyotes. The Coyotes Squirt 1 team is facing off against the Yarmouth-Dennis Dolphins Squirt 1 team in what’s known as a “play down game” for a chance to advance to the state finals.
The Coyotes start fast, getting a quick 2-0 lead — thanks in part to Teddy Peck scoring his first goal of the season in the opening minutes of the game. The team goes on to win the game 7-3 and will play in the state finals in Springfield in March.
For the athletes and the families and fans across the Cape who support the Coyotes youth hockey program, it’s just another Friday night.
The Lower Cape Coyotes are a nonprofit travel hockey club with teams arranged by age in five divisions: Mite, Squirt, Pee Wee, Bantam, and Midget. Players can begin as young as six in the Mite division and go on through high school. Once kids begin playing for the Coyotes they generally stay in the program for years, said Coyotes President Sean O’Leary.
Behind the Lower Cape Coyotes is a group of dedicated volunteers and parents who make the program successful.
“We’ve become such a close-knit organization,” Erika Meads said. Meads is secretary on the Coyotes board of directors, her husband Jamie Meads is a volunteer coach for the Squirt 1 team, and their 10-year-old son Jaxen plays on the team.
“It’s a lot of fun; the kids get really excited,” said Jamie. “It’s a lot of effort by the kids and families.”
Jamie, who played professionally in the American Hockey League (AHL), said hockey comes with a stigma of being overly time-consuming. It’s not as much work, though, when there’s a tight community like the one the Lower Cape Coyotes has created.
Erika Meads said that 128 players are currently involved in the Coyotes program, coming from as far away as Truro and Yarmouth. The Meads family lives in Wellfleet.
She estimates that about a quarter of the parents have multiple children in the program. One of Erika’s friends has three children on three different teams. So the parents rely on each other for carpooling and help to make sure everyone is at practices and games on time.
Sean O’Leary has been involved with the Coyotes for six years, as president for the last three. “Every weekend when I go off Cape, I have someone else’s child in the car with me,” he said. “It’s a commitment but it’s a good commitment.”
O’Leary said the program is trying to attract and keep more families, particularly from the Outer Cape. Right now there are none from Provincetown.
He believes parents may fear early morning drives and constant travel, which is not the case. The teams practice once or twice a week after school and games are on the weekends. He said it’s easier with the volunteers, who help with coaching, fundraising, carpooling, coordinating, and feeding hungry athletes.
“It’s a big family — a group effort all the way through,” he said. “The kids make friends for life. To keep [the program] growing we have to start with the youth.”
Jaxen Meads has played for the Coyotes for four years and credits his family with getting him involved. “[My interest] started with my uncle Larry; he made it to the AHL and my dad, too,” Jaxen said. “It’s a sport I admired and it’s the sport for me.”
While playing in league games throughout the regular season, each team also competes in state and national tournaments. The Coyotes host the Cape Cod Classic each year for the Pee Wee, Squirt, and Mite levels.
Erika Meads said that last year the Squirt teams traveled to Lake Placid, N.Y. to play in the CAN/AM Challenge Cup Tournament. For this tournament the teams were split into Squirt A, B, and C teams and each took home a gold medal.
The teams skated in the same rink that saw the “miracle on ice” — when the U.S. defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
“It was absolutely amazing,” she said.
This year the Squirt level teams will travel to Jay Peak, Vt. for another regional tournament. Teams travel to Rhode Island for some games throughout the season as well, Erika Meads said.
And sometimes there’s great joy.
The thrill of scoring a goal is one of the most euphoric feelings in sports. Max Cronen knows that feeling well — he’s been with the Coyotes for four years and he put one in the back of the net in Friday’s game against Y-D.