Connecticut River Shootout presses pause due to COVID-19

  • Rob Grabill, who is also Hanover High’s boys soccer coach, calls a basket for Lebanon during their 76-55 Connecticut River Shootout win over Stevens in Hanover in 2014. James M. Patterson / Valley News file

  • Hanover’s Hank Pikus, left, closely defends Woodsville’s Elijah Flock in the first quarter of their game in the Connecticut River Shootout last year. valley news file — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/31/2020 6:44:19 PM
Modified: 12/31/2020 6:44:09 PM

HANOVER — Tim Winslow still chuckles when he thinks back to the Connecticut River Shootout’s origin. After winning the Capital City Classic holiday tournament in 2004 and 2005, the Hanover High boys basketball team was never invited back. Winslow isn’t sure why, but by the 2007-08 season he wanted to have his team playing in a holiday tournament again.

Instead of shopping around for a slot, he and then-Hanover athletic director Mike Jackson formulated a plan to create their own holiday tourney at Hanover. The first tournament, dubbed the Connecticut Valley Tourney, featured four Upper Valley teams: Hanover, Hartford, Lebanon and Mascoma. It has now morphed into an annual tradition, serving as a fundraiser and alumni reunion for the program; last winter marked its 13th year.

Typically the holiday tournament is held the weekend after Christmas, but like so much else this year, Winslow’s brainchild is another victim of the COVID-19 pandemic since winter sports in New Hampshire aren’t allowed to begin until Jan. 11.

“The goal of the Connecticut River Shootout was to get more local teams to get involved,” said Winslow, who is now in his 21st season with the Marauders. “Long before I was here, they used to have a big Upper Valley tournament with over 12 teams and they played it at Dartmouth. We couldn’t get that because they don’t allow us to play that many games anymore, but we were hoping to get some sort of Round Robin do something more creative.”

Added Jackson: “We had good sponsorship, good attendance for the time of year. So we felt it was a good thing all around and it helped build interest in our basketball program.”

The Shootout has gone through a cast of changes since that first year. Those four teams were originally going to meet each year in the tourney, but that changed in 2009 when the Hurricanes bowed out before the start of the season.

Lebanon has made a handful of appearances, winning the tournament in 2014. K.J. Matte, then a sophomore guard, averaged 21 points in three games, including 20 in the championship game to power Lebanon to a 62-40 victory over Hanover. In recent years, however, Lebanon coach Kieth Matte has taken his teams down to the Queen City Invitational Basketball Tournament.

“I used to love to go and see the coaches, and you’d get to see some schools we never played,” he said. “And Tim (Winslow) is a great guy and it was nice to coach against him without having this intense pressure to win the game. It’s a shame we’re not having it; it’s a community event that a lot of people love to come out to.”

The Shootout created a homecoming atmosphere for coaches in 2008. Hartford was coached by Mike Gaudette, who faced off against a Mascoma program he spent 10 years with. And Sharon Academy coach Tom Vashel returned to Hanover to face a Marauders team he played for from 1998-2002.

Longtime Lebanon assistant coach Jim Barry took over the Mascoma program in 2009 and promptly won the tournament each of his first two seasons. The 2010 championship game featured a memorable performance from Connor Torrey, who recorded a double-double with 26 points and 14 rebounds, leading Mascoma to a 65-63 victory over Hanover in the last minute of play.

“Winning the Connecticut River Shootout really got my program jump-started that first year,” remembers Barry, who amassed a 128-90 record in 10 seasons at Mascoma before stepping down after the 2018-19 season. “I didn’t expect to win it going into the tournament, but going out I remember going out and thinking, ‘OK, these kids are tough.’ ”

Hanover has won the Shootout seven of the 13 years it has been held. Littleton is the only other program besides Mascoma and Lebanon to bring home a trophy from Hanover, squeaking by the Marauders, 71-69, in 2018.

No champion was crowned in 2015 or 2016 because snow forced Winslow to rearrange the schedule.

The largest bracket ever fielded was in 2014 with eight teams. Woodsville, Kearsarge, Hillsboro-Deering, Stevens and Franklin are other schools that have participated over the years. Games don’t count toward the overall record for NHIAA tournament seeding, either.

But now, when games begin Jan. 11, teams won’t have any preseason games under their belt.

“It would be good so we can play someone other than ourselves, but on the other hand everybody is in the same boat,” Matte said. “I’m predicting some pretty ugly basketball out of the gate. I don’t think you’re going to see any ESPN Classics in the month of January.”

Pete Nakos can be reached at

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