One side was nervous but understandably excited. The other unsure but willing to try. Now, with more than half of the season behind them, players on the newly formed girls’ hockey cooperative between Hopkins and St. Louis Park agree that merging two established programs has been more successful than any of them imagined.

“It’s gone fantastically,” second-year head coach Chris Erickson said. “The only real issue we’ve had has been with practice time. St. Louis Park gets out of school about 30 to 40 minutes later than Hopkins. But we’ve been able to deal with that.”

Merger rumblings began two years ago, when youth hockey programs in the two communities joined forces because of dwindling numbers. St. Louis Park’s Elena Basill, now a senior, said she thought it was only a matter of time before change became inevitable.

“It’s kind of sad not to have a St. Louis Park team any more, but I know it’s for the best,” Basill said.

Athletic directors at Hopkins and St. Louis Park decided to merge after last season. The players were informed before summer workouts.

The St. Louis Park players were thrilled, although a bit nervous about combining with a larger program that has had significant success in the rugged Lake Conference.

The Hopkins players weren’t so sure.

“Our numbers were getting a little smaller, but I never thought, considering how strong the program has been, that we’d need to combine with anyone,” said junior defenseman Kate Glover, who has verbally accepted an offer to play at Harvard after graduation. “I was very nervous about it at first.”

Senior defenseman Hope Brettingen, another of the Royals’ five captains (along with Basill and Brigid Duffy from St. Louis Park and Glover and Kylie Hanley from Hopkins), said she was surprised by the level of skill from the five St. Louis Park players who are varsity regulars.

“It’s made our team much better,” Brettingen said.

On the ice, the Royals have enough players to field full varsity and JV rosters. With a greater sense of competitiveness in practice, varsity spots are earned, not assured.

“It was scary at first because we felt like we had to show them we could do stuff at St. Louis Park, too,” said Basill, whose outgoing, affable personality has been instrumental in team bonding.

One of the most pleasant additions from St. Louis Park is eighth-grade forward Olivia Mobley, who had a hat trick in a season-opening victory over Red Wing and is fourth on the team in scoring.

“She’s kind of quiet, but she’s got a lot of skills,” Glover said.

Through Wednesday, Hopkins/Park had posted a 9-8 record that includes victories over traditional powers Minnetonka and Benilde-St. Margaret’s. The general feeling is that the more the Royals play together, the better they become. The most rewarding part, all agree, has been how close the team has become.

“Someone is always with someone else, just hanging out,” Brettingen said. “We don’t think about where we come from. We’re all one team.”