Last spring, the Rams feared they would not be able to play this season because of the pandemic. The aspiring seniors were certain that last year’s championship would be their crowning glory.
However, they learned that a 2020-21 season was planned – albeit with precautionary measures. And it came to fruition even though it was never certain that it would be completed.
Riverside trainer Steve Ziff had to make roster adjustments and had to constantly communicate with his players to be patient. “We’ll do it and in a few months we’ll do another run in the championship,” Ziff told the team at the beginning of the season.
As coronavirus cases increased in November and December, Ziff’s focus shifted to getting his team to mid-February without the rinks closing.
While Riverside struggled with health problems and a strict schedule, Briar Woods (11-1-1) rose to the NVSHL standings with an unbeaten record. The Falcons beat the Rams twice, scoring five or more goals in eight of their nine regular season games.
The Rams, with an emphasis on defense and goalkeeping, secured the third seed with a 6-3-1 record.
In the championship game, Riverside was determined to set the tone when he met Briar Woods for the third time and took a 2-0 lead in the first half.
“It looked like we wanted more,” said Darnell, who had a goal and a template. “We were the better team and played harder.”
Second goalkeeper Aiden Hopewell, named first-team all-conference, made 25 saves and kept Briar Woods goalless for the first two periods.
“Aiden has played his butt in the last couple of games,” said assistant coach Chris Kohlasch, who stood in for Ziff because of a timing conflict in the title game. “He never gives up.”
Briar Woods eventually broke through with a goal in the third period when Senior Jack Courtney lasered the puck from Hopewell’s glove into the net. However, the falcons could not generate anything more.
As the buzzer sounded, gloves flew over the rink. Riverside won the NVSHL trophy again, cementing the end of a turbulent season. At that moment, things felt normal.
“Just being able to be with the guys and play sports in these surroundings is pretty great,” said Darnell.