The hole in the center of the doughnut of Twin Cities high school hockey got a little bit bigger this week. Richfield High School officially announced that they will not play varsity hockey this season due to dwindling participation numbers.
The Spartans have an extremely proud legacy that dates back to the mid-50s. The school has appeared in six state tournaments, including a runner-up finish in 1976, and consolation bracket championships in 1963 and 1991.
The Spartans hockey program has also produced many notable alumni. Most famous is Darby Hendrickson, whose 32 goals and 61 points in 1991 helped lead Richfield to the state championship game and earned him that year's Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award. Hendrickson went on to have two strong years at the University of Minnesota and a 500+ game NHL career. Other alumni that went on to NHL careers include goalie Damian Rhodes(who was the catalyst for one of Minnesota high school hockey's biggest upsets ever), and defenseman Steve Christoff, who was a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team. The program's impact on the game of hockey was far-reaching, from the numerous Division I players they produced, to the alumni that went on to make a name for themself in coaching like Shattuck-St. Mary's Tom Ward or former Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting. The last Richfield alum to play Division I college hockey, Air Force's Cole Gunner, finished tied for 12th nationally in scoring last year in his senior season.
The remaining players from this year's Richfield team will attempt to latch on somewhere for this season, either with another high school program if a deal can be worked out, or with a Junior Gold program. Next season, it's likely that the Richfield program will co-op with the Bloomington Kennedy high school program, a consolidation that has already happened at the youth level.
Richfield's demise due to lack of players continues a trend of shifting population in the Twin Cities metro area. After the inner city schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul--the original powerhouses in Minnesota high school hockey--faded into oblivion due to population shift to the suburbs, the same fate is now befalling inner-ring suburbs as population shifts towards outer-ring suburbs. In recent years, programs in Columbia Heights, Fridley, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center were forced to combine to form the "North Metro Stars," who themselves had to co-op with Osseo due to limited numbers. Last season, the two Robbinsdale high schools of Armstrong and Cooper were forced to co-op last season due to limited numbers. Richfield is now the latest casualty of that trend.