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Interboro hopes to follow Ridley’s blueprint

ASTON >> Interboro hockey has taken its fair share of lumps this season, none bigger than Thursday’s 14-1 drubbing at the hands of undefeated Ridley. Against the likes of Michael Giampapa (five goals, three assists), Nick Catona (three goals, four assists) and Nate Dunning (two goals, two assists) the Bucs struggled to keep pace at IceWorks.

But this was always going to be a challenging campaign for Interboro. The Bucs made the jump to the Inter-County Scholastic Hockey League and the Ches-Mont South division for 2015-16 after a 7-0 season at the Junior Varsity level last year. Before that, hockey wasn’t even offered at the school.

Ridley’s Nate Manning, left,  and Anthony Smythe celebrate during the Green Raiders' 14-1 win over Interboro Thursday. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Ridley’s Nate Manning, left, and Anthony Smythe celebrate during the Green Raiders’ 14-1 win over Interboro Thursday. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

“A lot of these kids could barely skate,” Interboro head coach Brian Rhoads said following the loss to the Green Raiders. Rhoads played four seasons for the Bucs before graduating in 1999. Since then, hockey has been an on-and-off sport at Interboro.

But with a handful of hockey players entering the school’s halls, Rhoads and company decided to give it another go.

“We kind of went out on a limb,” he said.

The nascent program passed out fliers both at the high school and in the community looking for prospective players. Current captain Kenny Keene, a veteran who plays his club hockey with the Quakers, recruited some friends to the cause.

“Word was spread,” Keene said. “Kids seemed interested.”

They hosted fundraisers to pay for ice time and uniforms, and when the requisite number of players committed, Bucs puck was back.

“I wanted to play with my school and all of my friends,” said Keene. “We have to grow, but we’re getting better.”

There were signs of that improvement against the Green Raiders despite the lopsided result. For one, goaltender Matt Whitham made a staggering 44 saves in the 32 minutes of play, several of the spectacular variety. He robbed Brett Dunning on a breakaway to start the second period then followed up that stop with a kick save on a Catona one-timer midway through the frame. Whitham, a sophomore, showcased the kind of lateral movement that will make him a formidable net-minder in the coming months.

The offense jumped out to a solid start as well. After Catona opened the scoring 1:13 into the game, Jake Reifer evened things with a superb individual effort. He blocked a slapshot at his own blue line then raced the other way. His wrist-shot beat Brendahn Brawley to the glove side and the Bucs, to the surprise of most everyone in the arena, had a tie game.

Of course, the Green Raiders responded with 13 consecutive goals to suppress hopes of an upset.

“We have to look at the positives,” said Keene. “We have some good plays. We just have to fix the mistakes.”

Interboro’s  Stephen Schwartz, left, trips up Ridley’s Brett Dunning Thursday night. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Interboro’s Stephen Schwartz, left, trips up Ridley’s Brett Dunning Thursday night. (Times Staff/Robert J. Gurecki)

Part of the challenge for a makeshift hockey team is making the most of practice. Interboro is on the ice for at most three hours a week. Much of that time is spent getting the more inexperienced players used to the basics — stick-handling, skating backwards and the like. As a result, the Bucs have found other ways to work out the kinks in their game.

“A lot of players haven’t played serious hockey before,” said Keene. “So I’m always encouraging them at school to play pickup games. We do some off-ice training. We try to get as much work in as we can.”

“We want to go over some videos,” added Rhoads. “We need to learn to play defense so we can avoid the defensive breakdowns.”

Still, Interboro boasts a solid core in Whitham, Keene, as well as top scorers Stephen Schwartz and Reifer. Their opponents have taken notice.

“We knew they had a couple guys that we had to watch,” said Ridley defenseman Nate Dunning. “We tried to play like it was any other game.”

He then acknowledged what those familiar with the Green Raiders (8-0-1) already knew.

“That was us not too long ago,” he said.

Indeed, Ridley was a bottom-feeder as recently as 2013. The Bucs (1-4-1) can only hope of reaching the Green Raiders’ current status. In fact, Rhoads considers entrance into the Central League a long-term goal for his program. But for now, just playing will do.

“Everyone tries to work hard regardless of the score,” said Keene. “They’re working hard to improve and you look and you can actually see them get better. It’s great to see.”

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