BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
When the Williamsville High School Girls hockey team won the NYSPHSAA 2019 Girls Ice Hockey Championship on February 9, the late Dr. James Rusin was certainly looking down from a more heavenly place with a huge smile on his face.
Dr. Rusin, who died back in 2013 following a battle with cancer, was a teacher, coach, Director of Athletics for the Williamsville School System for 43 years. Thirty-three of those years were spent as the Williamsville AD.
And it was Dr. Rusin, more than anyone else, who was the person who helped develop girls high school ice hockey in Western New York.
“Interestingly enough, when I first met Jim he came across as more of a basketball guy,” recalled Rick Hopkins, a health and physical education instructor in the Williamsville School System and head coach of the Williamsville girls high school hockey team. “His son was an outstanding basketball player.
“He saw how crazy the people of Amherst and Williamsville were over hockey. I think once he saw that he fell in love with the sport.”
Several years earlier Dr. Rusin, along with three other individuals, were instrumental in establishing the sport for high school boys.
“Dr. Rusin was one of the people instrumental in helping establish the Western New York Boys Ice Hockey Federation. There were people out there who thought the Boys Hockey Fed would never amount to anything.
“But Jim had great vision. The Boys Ice Hockey Fed has been a great success.
“If it hadn’t been for their success, the girl’s varsity hockey would have never happened.”
It was when Hopkins got involved in house and travel league hockey with his daughters that he approached Dr. Rusin with the idea of a girls high school varsity hockey league.
“He said ‘that’s a great idea,’” remembered Hopkins. “’What do we do?’”
What Hopkins did, with a huge assist from Dr. Rusin, was assemble a group of parents, coaches and administrators who had a deep passion for the game of hockey and had been involved in travel or house league hockey.
“Jim made it happen the right way,” continued Hopkins. “He felt that we had enough players here in Western New York to get our own league going.
“From that point he went out and talked to other Athletic Directors from other school in the area and got them to the table to talk.
“And there were some of the AD’s who thought Jim was crazy and a girls high school hockey league would never happen.
“And here we are, nine years later, from that moment he dropped the opening games puck. I would say that we are now pretty established with eight teams making up the league.
“His enthusiasm was contagious. No matter if he was working with teachers, other AD’s and athletes, he could get people enthused.
“Jim Rusin was a man who got things done. And because of his enthusiasm for the sport, a lot of high school-age girls have gotten the opportunity to play hockey.
“That was what he wanted and that legacy lives on.”