This past weekend at the St. Pete Time Forum, two impressive runs came to an end.
The most surprising was when Springstead said farewell to longtime hockey coach Jim Fisher. Fisher, the only leader the program has known in its eight-year history, is calling it quits after a successful career.
He has a career record of 161-35-6 and has won more state crowns than any other coach in Tampa Bay Junior Lightning Youth Ice Hockey Organization history. He will be replaced by Rick Glass, a staff assistant and the father of Tyler Glass, one of the club's top scorers.
Fisher began coaching the club when his son, Jimbo, played for the team and stayed on long past his son's graduation. His connection to his players is more than most could ever realize.
During the 2003-04 season, Springstead was on its way to the state finals for what would have been its third title. The team was set to face-off with Kissimmee, but prior to the playoffs, Fisher and his family suffered a tragedy. His infant son, Patrick, passed away. Without any instruction, the entire roster came out onto the ice for the final with black armbands on to memorialize Patrick.
"That was the most heartfelt moment to see those boys pull together and do something like that for me," Fisher said. "It goes a long way toward them becoming men after that."
Last Sunday would have been Patrick's fifth birthday, and Fisher received phone calls from members of that team to wish him well. This is a connection that kept the coach's fire burning for these kids. Kissimmee defeated Springstead that day with the help of ringers, players brought in to help them win the game. Eventually, the league banned Kissimmee from competition, but the Eagles gained more than a title that day.
It's those moments that will stand out above the championships and trophies long after Fisher's career is over. That is what made this season's finish easier to take.
The Eagles, who finished 12-8-1, failed to make the state finals for only the second time in eight years.
"Honestly, we just wanted to bring this last one home for Coach Jim," leading scorer and senior Ryan Nelson said. "I am more disappointed for him than I am for myself."
Springstead was confident heading into the postseason after a strong finish to the regular season, but a lack of depth eventually caught up with the program. While there is an abundance of talent on the Eagles, the team doesn't have as many skaters as some of the other top clubs.
The popularity of the league has grown in the past five years and teams have boomed with players. While other clubs have grown to 20-plus players, Springstead has continued to be successful with only nine skaters.
Nelson and fellow senior Joey Puricelli finished stellar careers by being the two leading scorers in the league. Nelson has been the top scorer in league play since his freshman season. This club has flown under the radar for its entire history and is possibly one of the most successful locally based teams.
Fisher and the Eagles' legacy should be remembered for years to come.
"It's going to be tough for (Springstead) next year," Fisher said. "Coaches would tell me after games we'd lose that they just kept rotating players against us to wear us out."
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