Four years ago, the River Ridge High School Hockey Team was in its infancy.
Now, it's the third best team in the state.
The team competed in the state hockey championship last weekend when they played at both the St. Pete Times Forum and the Ellenton Igloo. The team fell short of a state title, but coach Brian Griffin is proud of how far the club has come in its four-year existence after finishing 17-1 and first in its division this season.
"We have a bunch of kids that started out as freshman and have had to play a varsity sport for four years," Griffin said. "What makes this team special is the depth of the squad. We have three or four lines of kids that contribute."
With 10 kids returning for next season, Griffin isn't worried about the team's ability to sustain success.
"The first year we played we were looking for anybody who had the money to play," Griffin said. "Now we only need three or four more kids for next season after we lose our seniors and we should be able to sustain what we've done."
With no funding from the school, Griffin has done well to conquer the challenge of putting a team together year after year.
"We get no funding from the school because we are considered a club sport, so it's difficult at times," Griffin said. "There is a big commitment from the parents because of the cost of the equipment and the time that it takes to travel to places."
Players from other schools in Pasco that don't have a team are eligible to play for River Ridge since hockey is not part of the school's funded athletic programs. Tony Feldman lives in Hudson, but has traveled a lot with his son to play for River Ridge.
"High school hockey helps the kids with contact confidence that they don't get as much in their younger years in the sport," Feldman said. "This team is well coached. It gives my son a good experience and camaraderie with kids outside of his own school."
That camaraderie is something players on the team view as the key to their success.
"When we first started out, we relied on just one player to score goals and do a lot of the work," forward Jake Swedberg said. "This year, we're a lot better rounded. We have three different lines that play really well together. One line can grind down low and the next is more finesse and puts the puck in the back of the net for us."
Viewing their season as a major success overall, Griffin is proud of his team's efforts and achievements over a grueling season that started back in September.
"Our season was a big success," Griffin said. "What killed us in the playoffs was injuries. We lost our leading scorer and best defenseman at the end of the season and two more kids in the first round of the playoffs. We consider ourselves to be a very good team, considering we lost 2-1 in a game to go to the state championship without those players."
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