A new hockey co-op gives life to one high school program while resurrecting another.
Southwest Christian, located in Chaska, received Minnesota State High School League approval this week to form a boys’ hockey partnership with Richfield. The combined team will play mostly junior varsity games in 2016-17 with the goal of joining the varsity ranks the following season.
Both programs welcomed the chance to join forces. The news is especially sweet for Richfield, a first-ring suburb and former hockey power that folded its program before last season because of a lack of numbers.
“It’s a great day for hockey in Richfield,” said Darby Hendrickson, a 1991 Richfield graduate who played in college at Minnesota and later with the Wild, in a news release. He also will serve on a hockey development committee for the program.
Darin Keizer, athletic director at Southwest Christian, said: “We’ve had families come to our school that had to quit hockey. So they are excited. We want every student-athlete at both schools to have an opportunity to play.”
Keizer estimated a roster of 18 to 20 players next season with about 60 percent coming from Southwest Christian. The team will be nicknamed the Stars since Southwest Christian is the host school, but the jerseys will reflect both programs, Keizer said.
The schools sit about 20 miles apart and will share facilities. The Chaska Community Center and Richfield Ice Arena will split the regular-season home games.
The new program is accepting applications for the head coach position. Southwest Christian High School opened in 1996 and has grown more than 40 percent in the past four years to its current enrollment of 325 students.
Meanwhile, hockey in Richfield declined. The varsity roster shrank to 11 skaters and two goalies before last season, forcing the cancellation. The Spartans’ program made six state tournament appearances from 1962 to ’91 and produced such players as Hendrickson, Steve Christoff and Tom Ward.
“We’re thrilled to once again be able to offer a competitive high school hockey experience to our student athletes here at Richfield,” Richfield athletic director Dave Boie said in a news release.