Covid-19 Robs Sealakers of a Repeat Chance at Essex in the Finals


Burlington/Colchester Girls Ice Hockey team learns their championship game has been canceled Photo: Gussie Guyette

Rebecca Cunningham, Staff Writer

Wednesday, March 24, at 3:30, the Burlington/Colchester (BC) Girls Hockey team was running circles in the pouring rain around the parking lot outside the Gordon H. Paquette Ice Arena. They were warming up for their state championship game against Essex, scheduled to start at 4:30. This was their chance for revenge after Essex defeated Burlington/Colchester in the 2020 state finals–and the BC girls were stoked. 

“I kept thinking oh my gosh we did it!” sophomore Gussie Guyette said. “I was so excited to play one last game with all the seniors and just have fun, give it all we got.”

At 3:45 the BC team headed to the rink to warm-up on ice but were stopped by the Vice Principal of Colchester who asked the girls to stay outside. 

“Essex goes into the rink. Our refs are arriving. They’re going into the rink. The media’s arriving. They’re going into the rink. But we’re still standing outside,” senior Captain Ruby Wool said.

BC girls pose for a photo. Photo: Gussie Guyette

Earlier that morning, an athlete on the BC team learned someone in her circle had tested positive for Covid-19. The team held a Zoom meeting at 12:30 to discuss the situation and decide whether or not to play. The consensus was unanimous: the girls wanted to compete. 

“We were ready to do this,” Wool said. “But we also had the understanding that it was still OK for us to play.”

Three hours later, a different story unfolded. When the BC girls arrived at the rink, the Burlington Athletic Director and the Colchester Athletic Director were there on a call with the Superintendents from both schools discussing the reported Covid case. The BC team was instructed to start warming up as normal, but the girls felt uneasy. 

“The situation was hectic, crazy, confusing, disorganized,” Guyette said. “No one knew what was happening.”

After an hour and a half, the Sealaker coaches called their players into a circle and to everyone’s disappointment announced that the game had been canceled due to the possible Covid exposure on the Burlington/Colchester team. 

“We were all so upset,” junior Paige Moody said. “Standing there and seeing everyone’s sad eyes in the circle was just hard to hear. You could tell there was a lump in the back of people’s throats and everyone was trying to hold it in.”

BC girls’ hockey coach, Molly DiMasi, said she knew how much they wanted a state title. 

“There is so much heart and passion in these girls,” she said. “They worked so hard to get to the championship game.

BC girls huddled up during a game. Photo: Gussie Guyette

Although the girls were heartbroken, they understood the game had been canceled for safety reasons. What they didn’t understand was the decision from the Vermont Principals Association (VPA) that came at 12:07 Thursday, March 25: The VPA crowned Essex the 2021 Division 1 Girls Hockey State Champions. Essex took home the trophy for the ninth consecutive year. 

The VPA set strict protocols at the beginning of the tournament that outlined what would happen in the case of a Covid-19 exposure on a team. They asked all schools in this situation to forfeit the game and allow the opposing team to advance. During the playoffs, games needed to happen in a timely manner to finish the season. 

“The committee felt it would be unfair and inconsistent to other teams who had to withdraw from the tournament to rule any other way,” VPA officials wrote in their announcement Thursday. 

But both the Burlington/Colchester and Essex teams disagreed with this decision in the case of the state championship game. Many of the seniors grew up playing together and were looking forward to one last game. 

“It just seems wrong,” Wool said. “It’s not even a question of ice time or refs. I don’t understand why we can’t just postpone the game until both teams have tested negative.”

BC girls celebrate after scoring a goal against Rutland in the semi-finals. Photo: Gussie Guyette

The BC girls did not expect to earn a shot at the state championship title this year which made the cancellation all the more disappointing. They lost nine seniors who graduated with the class of 2020 and posted an average season record of five wins, three losses, and one tie. 

“If someone had told me at the beginning of the season that we would make it to the championship I would have said ‘Oh my gosh you’re crazy,’” Guyette said.

But during the playoffs, the Sealakers gave everything and were rewarded. 

They started the tournament with an upset against BFA St. Albans (4-2) knocking the Comets out of the semi-finals for the first time in 18 years. Then they rode this momentum to beat Rutland Saturday and advanced to the finals on Wednesday.

Although the championship game never happened, the BC girls proved their toughness one last time in the parking lot. 

“It’s a tough situation, but I think they handled it really well,” DiMasi said. “They’re all really strong.”