Winchendon School Girls Hockey Announcement 16U, 19U with Interview

Below is the official announcement from Winchendon on the formation of a 16U and 19U followed by an interview with Coach where we asked some interesting questions followed by informative answers.

Girls Hockey Announcement 16U and 19U

The Winchendon School announced that for the 2023-2024 season the girls’ ice hockey program will move to the extended season, USA Hockey format with 16U and 19U teams and a nationally competitive hockey schedule. The move to this program will allow Winchendon to better meet its student-athletes’ goals of preparing to play at the highest collegiate level while pursuing a rigorous and innovative academic program.  The Winchendon School is known for its experiential learning and a strong record of college placement.

Under the leadership of Director of Hockey, Coach Jeff Pellegrini, the School announced the formation of 16U and 19U full-season hockey teams starting with the 2023-2024 season.

“We would be excited if every NEPSAC school added teams at the 16U and 19U level – because a) it will best serve the students, and b) again attract the best prospects back to NEPSAC schools.  Everything from cognitive research to what we hear from the coaches at the university programs suggests that student-athletes will benefit from this new strategy.   Under the current structure, the most aspirational female student-athletes are forced to stitch together a mishmash of different hockey and academic programs – almost always resulting in compromise and unnecessary anxiety, expense and travel. Winchendon’s new program will eliminate much of that shuttling between programs and allow the students well-integrated academics, athletics, and conditioning throughout the year.   It’s about a higher quality high school experience and less stress!” 

Pellegrini continued, “We believe this approach will bring the best players back to the prep school model – over the past few years we’ve watched players leave to play at “hockey academies” at the expense of their education. We believe this model is the best of both worlds, a full season schedule wrapped around an education first philosophy.”

Since the women’s ice hockey program’s inaugural season at The Winchendon School, team members have enjoyed strong matriculation to highly competitive colleges and universities where they’ve enjoyed continuing their playing careers. With this program in New England, we’re looking forward to more of our student-athletes achieving their goal of playing at the highest level. 

Since 1926, The Winchendon School has inspired, empowered, and elevated each student by creating a joyful and transformative learning experience, resulting in graduates who are better prepared for a lifetime of success. With a boarding and day campus near Boston and a day campus in NYC, The Winchendon School provides unmatched opportunities for students in grades 9 – 12, plus PG students.

“This is an incredible move forward for our School and program. We are thrilled the leadership at The Winchendon School recognizes the opportunity to develop competitive student-athletes and a national program,” added Pellegrini.” 

We wanted to learn more an followed up with some questions

For more information, please contact Jeff Pellegrini at 978-297-7905 or Deb Schultz, Director of Marketing at 978-297-7896.

Neutral Zone interview with Wapiti Director of Hockey Operations, Jeff Pellegrini

What will be the start date and are you USA Hockey National bound?

We will start in August and play through March. Our 16u and 19u teams will not be USAH National bound teams. Instead of playing for a National Championship, our focus for our players will be skill development, College Hockey exposure, College Scholarships, and opportunities to represent their countries in International play. One thing both myself and Dean Jackson have noticed is that there is a significant learning curve when a 19u player lands at the college hockey program they choose. We will be working tirelessly on flattening that learning curve, so our players will be impact players when they reach their college hockey destination. This will have a significant impact on the recruitment of our players. If we develop players who are “game ready” for college hockey, more programs will want our players. This move to full-season hockey is about the players and their preparation for college hockey, not about a banner and a trophy.  

Do you expect the men to follow suit?

As of right now, our boys program will stay in the NEPSAC. If we need to re-evaluate next Fall, we will. I’m not saying it won’t ever happen, but for now, we will continue to play in the NEPSAC with our boys program. We must continue researching what’s best for our male student-athletes and their families. Ultimately, we need to do what’s best for our student-athletes.

Will there be any other women’s Prep teams following your lead?

We hope that other NEPSAC schools will make the same decision to move to a full-season model. It’s a move that is in the best interest of the student-athletes and their families. With all the research we have done and the data we gathered, we realized this is what the players and their families want. It would be great if other NEPSAC programs decided to follow The Winchendon School.

Will this result in a local Academy/Prep league?

We are still trying to figure out the answer to that question. If the Prep Hockey Conference added a Girl’s Division, it would have the potential to be a great league. You already have three excellent boarding schools playing in it on the boys side (that have girls programs) with Shattuck-St. Mary’s, Northwood, and Culver.

What will the U14 players do?

Our 14u age players will play on our 16u team. We are going to keep both teams age-appropriate. Even if a player has exceptional talent, it’s essential for them to play, lift, watch video and interact in the locker rooms with teammates who are close in age. We will not have a 14u team, so next year the 16u team will be made up of 14, 15, and 16-year-olds. Our 19u team will have 17, 18, and 19-year-olds.

What league will you play in?

Currently, we are putting together an independent schedule. We are talking with a few different leagues. Before we make a decision, we want to make sure that if we choose a league, it’s the best league for both our 16u and 19u teams.

Will you stay age appropriate or will some outstanding U16 players play up?

We are going to keep both teams age-appropriate. Even if a player has exceptional talent, it’s essential for them to play, lift, and interact in the locker rooms with teammates who are close in age. We will not have a 14u team, so next year the 16u team will be made up of 14, 15, and 16-year-olds. Our 19u team will comprise 17, 18, and 19-year-olds.

How many times a year do you anticipate long trips (going on a plane) to attend showcases? Do you know what showcases you may attend?

We do anticipate 3-4 “long” trips for Showcases. Dean Jackson and I have over 25 years of coaching at the Division I and III levels. We reached out to every major college hockey program to see what showcases and tournaments they were attending. We analyzed all that information and believe we have developed a robust “tentative” schedule. We plan to host an incredible tournament here at The Winchendon School next December. We have put “the bug” in the college hockey coaches ear, and they were very excited about what we had planned.

Is there an additional cost to families?

We do anticipate there being a small “hockey fee .”This will cover all travel, hotels, food, uniforms, apparel, ice, and tournament/showcase fees.

What is a Wapiti?

It is a Native American (Shawnee) word for Elk.

Photo Credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images