Not enough hockey players remain for Richfield to offer a boys' varsity program for the 2015-16 season. Holding out hope for a different outcome might have limited some ­players' options.

"We hung on longer than we should have," said Dave Boie, activities director and a 1990 Richfield graduate. "We were just trying to get through this year."

Boie said 19 players participated in summer hockey, a small but feasible number. The roster shrank to 11 ­skaters and two goalies by the season's start. Ready to soldier on, Boie and coach Dave Shute pulled back after two players were suspended for two games and another quit. Three or four remaining players, 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."

The decision to cancel the season was announced Thursday, 10 days after the start of official practices.

"Lots of tears," said Shute, a 1989 Richfield graduate and former hockey player. "It was a sad, sad day. I feel bad for our kids."

The timing made finding a varsity home this season for Shute's "five or six halfway decent players" difficult. Boie contacted Minneapolis but the program has full ­varsity and junior varsity rosters and declined.

The deadline to co-op with another school was Nov. 8. Boie contacted the Minnesota State High School League on Friday about an emergency co-op. League Executive Director Dave Stead said such exceptions have been made in the past but Boie relented.

"How were we going to take our kids and put them on another team that had already gone through cutting their own kids?" said Boie, who suggested that interested Spartans players join a Junior Gold team this winter. Shute feels that option is less than ideal.

Richfield will look to co-op with another program ­beginning next season. Boie has previously contacted Holy Angels and Bloomington Kennedy.

"It's a socioeconomic issue in other communities, too," Boie said. "It wasn't if for Richfield, but when."

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, has dropped to Class 1A.

The Spartans' program made six state tournament appearances from 1962-91 and produced such players as Steve Christoff, Darby Hendrickson and Tom Ward. They struggled to stay competitive in recent years, dressing 18 players last year and finishing with a 2-22 record.