By Rick Woelfel
Council Rock North took another step forward Thursday night. The Indians fell to Central Bucks West 11-0 at Hatfield Ice in a Suburban High School Hockey League matchup that was called after the second period but there were an abundance of signs the program is moving in the right direction.
North had just 12 skaters and a goaltender in uniform. Eight of the skaters were freshmen and no one on the blueline corps had any experience there prior to the start of this season, but the Indians played hard and maintained their composure against an unbeaten West team that was more mature physically and processed superior skating ability.
“I was happy with the way the boys played,” said North coach Chris Gallagher, “and I thought they put a lot of effort in tonight. They’re learning on the fly and everyone appreciates the effort.”
Gallagher has put in a lot of effort himself over two seasons plus, resurrecting a program that dropped off the radar because of declining numbers. He and assistant coach Mike Epstein understand that building a quality program doesn’t happen overnight. But Gallagher has a plan in place.
“One was to have a middle-school program (originally run by Epstein),” he said. “Two was to have good kids play. Kids you could be proud of and get the numbers up, and I think we see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Senior Colin Kiefer is North’s captain. He will not be around to see his leadership efforts come to complete fruition. But what the North program will become over the next few seasons will be determined in part by the example Kiefer is setting now.
“My sophomore year we had nine seniors,” he said,” and we were just phenomenal. We played really well that season and obviously lost year we lost them all. We’ve got a new of new freshmen. It’s definitely going to be an experience teaching them how to play high-school hockey and what it’s like. It’s definitely a lot different than club hockey.”
Kiefer points out wearing a jersey with a school’s name on it brings with it a certain responsibility. That’s a point he tries to get across to his younger teammates.“They need to understand that this is a serious thing and represent the school,” he said.
Another element in building a program is building a relationship between the hockey club and the school’s administration. Gallagher says the process starts in the classroom.
“That’s probably my number-one priority this year,” he said, “Making sure these kids are student-athletes. They’re excelling the in the classroom, they’re doing the best they can on the ice, but they’re becoming good people and people that we can be proud of that are going to graduate from this program.
“They’re complying with the same requirements that every student-athlete has at North and if there are any incidents at school or on the ice, there’s going to be consequences and if any grades aren’t up to our requirements there’s going to be consequences as well.”
Like hockey programs at other public schools in the area and many probate ones, the Indians are a club team and not a varsity sport. But like many of his peers who oversee programs at other schools, Gallagher wants a good relationship with the school whose name his players carry on their jerseys.
“We’re not owed anything from Council Rock North,” he said. “We have a great group of kids here and we’re looking to set an example that we’re doing things the right way.”