Highland Park scored against Richfield in a game HP would go on to win 6-1 last January.
Dwindling participation numbers forced the Richfield boys’ hockey program to cancel the 2015-16 varsity season.
Earlier this week, Spartans’ coach Dave Shute said his 11 skaters and two goalies were planning to play. Then two players were suspended for two games and another quit. On Wednesday, Shute told players and parents the season was canceled.
“Lots of tears,” said Shute, a 1989 Richfield graduate and former hockey player. “It was a sad, sad day.”
Shute took the coaching job last season well aware of the challenges. Minneapolis, which sits on Richfield’s north border, has just one team for its seven public schools. Bloomington Kennedy, Richfield’s neighbor to the south, dropped to Class 1A.
Richfield will look to co-op with another program next season. Finding a varsity home this season for Shute’s “five or six halfway decent players” has not proved successful.
Minnesota State High School League executive director Dave Stead said he spoke to Richfield activities director Dave Boie on Friday about an emergency co-op with another program. The deadline to co-op was Nov. 8 but Stead said, “Has the board made exceptions? Yes.”
Stead said Boie suggested the idea that interested Spartans’ players skate for a Junior Gold team this winter. But Shute feels that option is less than ideal. An e-mail to Boie was not immediately returned Saturday.
“I’m so angry for our kids,” Shute said. “Why can’t these couple of kids go play? There should be some leeway for one season.”
Safety became more important than attempting to soldier along this winter with a small roster. Three or four players on the team, Shute said, “you couldn’t even put on the ice. They’ve got hearts as big as a lion’s, but they can’t even protect themselves.”
Richfield, a program with six state tournament appearances from 1962-91 that produced players such as Steve Christoff, Darby Hendrickson and Tom Ward, struggled to stay competitive in recent years. The Spartans, dressing 18 players, went 2-22 last season.
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574