The end of last season could not have gone worse for what was then called the Richard Montgomery High School co-op ice hockey team.
At first, it went remarkably well, with a trip to the 1A postseason and high hopes for success beyond that. Then, it all came crashing to a halt when the team was disqualified from the playoffs for having too many players from Richard Montgomery on the roster that also included players from Rockville and Col. Zadok Magruder.
No co-op team in the Maryland Student Hockey League is allowed to have more than 13 players from one school on the roster, but it was discovered that Paul Lofgren's team had 21 from Richard Montgomery.
So, coming into the 2013-14 campaign, the newly-formed Rockville/Magruder co-op knew it'd be competing without the services of Richard Montgomery's players, who branched out to form their own team under Lofgren.
How good Rockville/Magruder would be, under the direction of first-year coach Michael Gifford, who served as an assistant on the old team, was anyone's guess.
“It's one of those things that has been kind of amazing because it does seem like you never know how they're going to interact,” said Gifford, whose team also includes players from five area private schools. “But as soon as you throw out a puck and tell them they're on the same team, everyone kind of gets along.”
The instant bond has helped Rockville/Magruder to a 2-1-1 start and a second-place standing in the Montgomery 1A League prior to Friday night's games. The club has five points and has scored 25 goals while allowing 16.
Leading the way is a pair of Rockville students in senior captains Lucas Flavell and Steven Nagiel.
“I wasn't really expecting things to go like this,” said Flavell, who has scored three goals and assisted two more this season. “Based on what we have, I think we've definitely done a lot better than, personally, I thought we would.”
Because Gifford's squad lost so many players when Richard Montgomery branched out on its own, there were concerns over the defensive and goaltending depth. And while Rockville/Magruder certainly is still a more offensive-minded team — it has scored six or more goals in all but one game — the defense has improved dramatically since the start of the season.
“I thought we would have lost a lot more talent,” Nagiel said. “We did lose a couple of key players, but our goalie [Gregory Walzer] stepped up and everyone's playing as hard as they can. We're definitely a different team.”
In forming that new identity — a chance not every team has from offseason to offseason — Rockville/Magruder has received massive contributions from Flavell's younger brother, Justin. The talented defender has six goals and one assist to lead the team with seven points while five other players have scored three or more times.
“I knew we'd do well and we'd be playing in high scoring games,” Gifford said. “We're not so much a high-flying team, but we've been playing a lot of puck control. We're getting to a lot of loose pucks and not allowing the other team to play in our defensive zone.”
Gifford said he has also been pleasantly surprised with how the roster, which includes 11 Rockville players, five private school skaters and four athletes from Magruder, has come together despite losing so much from last season's 9-4 team. Gifford said the junior varsity team, however, does still include players from Richard Montgomery to maintain the bond between the schools.
“It's definitely been a learning experience, but it's really been a lot of fun,” Gifford said.
As the season progresses Nagiel believes the team can become stronger. His ultimate hope for his final high school season is not only to make the playoffs, but to stay there this time.
“I think everyone has the same goal,” he said. “Making the playoffs is the first goal, but also going deep in the playoffs. Everyone wants to win and the biggest thing for our team is to just keep believing in ourselves.”