The story was modified on Friday, Nov. 30. An explanation follows the story.
The final buzzer sounded at Rockville Ice Arena earlier this month and the James H. Blake High School co-op ice hockey team poured off its bench and rushed toward goaltender Brendan Isaacs.
“You'd think we'd won the Stanley Cup,” coach John Drzewicki said.
It might not have been a championship win, but the reaction was justified. The season-opening victory — 6-1 against Poolesville/Northwest/Quince Orchard — was Blake's first win in program history. It also ended a winless stretch of 66 games (63 losses, three ties) than spanned more than six years.
“It was actually one of the best feelings I've had in high school because it was a feeling I've been waiting four years for,” senior captain Pradip Ramamurti said. “We know we have a chance in every game this year. We just can't get too comfortable. We have hunger in us and have to bring that to every game because we know we have the ability to win every game this season.”
Past Blake teams couldn't show the confidence Ramamurti has in the current squad.
When Drzewicki took the helm before the 2008-09 season, he inherited a team less skilled than others in the league, specifically in the area that separates hockey from all other high school sports: skating.
That prohibited the coaching staff from working on more advanced concepts, instead, they focused on the basics.
During the summer, the players showed commitment that wasn't there in years past, Drzewicki said. Whenever possible, a Blake player was at a skating clinic or at a practice. Their improvement was noticeable during practices leading up to the first game.
“This year, it seems like everyone's spirits are higher and everyone's willing to learn,” senior Jimmy Stradley said. “Not only the guys that have been playing for a long time, but the guys that haven't been playing are having an impact and trying their hardest and getting better along with everyone else.”
Drzewicki — who gave a lot of credit to his assistants, Kevin Esser, Joe Chiaravallotti and his son, Dylan Drzewicki — said through all the losses, he's been proud of the team's effort.
“I'll say it a million times — I'm proud that all our other teams that, even though we may not have won a game, we were always competitive and played hard beginning to end,” he said. “That's what I'm most proud of.”
During the win, Blake gained an early advantage by scoring three goals during a span of 5 minutes, 1 second in the first period. Two goals followed in the second and one in the third. Poolesville/Northwest/Quince Orchard didn't score until 41 seconds remained in the game.
Blake's goals came from Ramamurti, Stradley, Sage Bittinger-Esser, Aiden Bittinger-Esser, Kenny Wong and Adam Beuttier. Isaacs faced 23 shots while Blake took 39.
Ramamurti said, unlike past years, Blake was on the offensive for the majority of the time.
“We had control of the puck throughout the game,” he said. “We dominated in puck control and possession. It was completely different. ... We had great passing and communication was great. That was really lacking in past years. We feel like we gave a real group effort.”
With a long season ahead, there's no reason Blake can't add to the program's win total.
“Hopefully this one is the first of many to come,” Stradley said. “Time will only tell how this season will go.”
Blake's hockey team has been considered a co-op program since 2006. Players on the roster attend Paint Branch, Springbrook, John F. Kennedy and Sandy Spring Friends.