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Rick Hopkins: A WNYGVIHF “Founding Father”

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BY RANDY SCHULTZ –

The Western New York Girl’s Varsity Ice Hockey Federation are in their 14th year of existence. One individual who has been a part of the girl’s ice hockey federation for the entire time has been Rick Hopkins, head coach of the Williamsville Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Team.

Actually, Hopkins was a part of the creation of the league long before the official first official faceoff took place in 2010. Hopkins was actually a part of the league when it was nothing more than an idea.

“It’s not hard to believe that the league is still thriving, which I knew it would be from day one,” stated Hopkins,” chairman of the WNYGVIHF. “But it is amazing that almost a decade and one-half has passed since the puck first dropped in 2010.

“It’s gone by so quickly.”

In reality, the WNYGVIHF took almost five years of meetings and planning before that first puck dropped.

“It was thanks to the efforts of the late Dr. James Rusin (then the Director of Athletics for the Williamsville School District), who really got the ball rolling,” remembered Hopkins. “I had been coaching girls travel hockey with my daughter and had travelled to Ithaca and saw their girls program.

“I got inspired by seeing that and came back to Dr. Rosin with the idea.”

It was Dr. Rusin, along with Hopkins, who was a Williamsville Physical Education instructor at the time, who organized a group of volunteer parents to get the process started.

“That was nearly five years before the league began play,” continued Hopkins. “There were many organizational meetings with interested parents from other school districts.

“But we stayed with it. Dr. Rusin got all the signatures on all the documents that were needed and I remember the day he called me and simply said, ‘It’s a go.’

“That’s when I knew it was. We had a couple of false starts a year before we actually began and even two years before.”

Hopkins also remembered that first official game.

20-21 Champs Capts with Coach Rick Hopkins

“That arena we played in that day was pretty close to being packed when Williamsville played Monsignor Martin in that very first game. The enthusiasm that carried over from that five-year push was there.

“Unfortunately there were some who helped the cause who didn’t reap the benefits. There were girls who never got the chance to play in a league game that had graduated and there were parents of those girls who had helped the cause.

“But I knew that with five years of momentum, the league was going to carry through and happen.”

There was one piece of advice that carried through that five years of planning and that was to not begin as club teams.

“It was great advice,” remarked Hopkins, now a retired physical education teacher, who substitutes in the Williamsville School System. “It was felt that some administrators at the time would say that you’re thriving as a club program, it’s not costing the school anything, so let’s just keep it a club program.

“I knew going the club route would be some school districts easy way out. I also knew that the high school boys ice hockey federation was thriving.

“There were people who thought that boys high school hockey wouldn’t last, but it did.

“Plus, we knew that hockey would not be a hard sell in Western New York. Plus, there were people who questioned the skill level of girl’s hockey.

“And Dr. Rusin’s response was, ‘ask somebody how many years have they played the trumpet when they try out for the school’s band.’”

One of the more satisfying moments that has come out of the WNYGVIHF is watching the girls who graduate from high school and ice hockey go on to college and continue playing the game.

“All of our coaches have had the opportunity to watch some of their former players come back playing college hockey,” said Hopkins. “And now even some of our former players are giving back to the game, coming back here was assistant coaches at the high school or college levels or even come back as head coaches.”

Hopkins also talked about the middle school aspect of the WNYGVIHF.

“In some cases we get to coach these girls from the time they enter seventh grade,” stated Hopkins. “By the time they get to be seniors the coaches know them pretty well.

“You get to watch them grow up. You get to watch them become leaders on a team and to take younger players under their wing.”

After 14 years Hopkins must have some memorable memories.

“I think seeing Dr. Rusin out there on the ice at the Northtown Center dropping that ceremonial first puck was a moment I’ll never forget,” recalled Hopkins. “That was such a great thrill and victory after five years of work and planning.

“There were the crowds that showed up for the playoff games. There was 2019 when the Williamsville won its first sectional title in overtime.

“I love watching the other teams play. A lot of memories.

Hopkins admits that being in year 14 of the league is very satisfying to him.

“It’s more important to me than any individual wins,” stated Hopkins. “Especially when we were told for five years that this wasn’t going to happen.

“The thing I’m the proudest of is year 14. That is the legacy that will live on.

“The League is here and it isn’t going anywhere.”

But Hopkins does have some moments that stick out in his mind.

“Winning the State Championship with Williamsville in 2019 in Buffalo was a thrill,” remembered the Williamsville head coach. “Going to Lake Placid the next year and coaching our team in the same building that held the ‘Miracle On Ice’ in 1980 was great.

“Watching the FLOP team win the State championship was memorable and all the success the KenGiPort team has had over the years.

“We’ve had wonderful coaches over the years, as well as outstanding players, too many to mention. For me, it’s been great to be a part of the success we have all shared with this girls high school hockey league.”

What does Hopkins see in the future for girl’s hockey in Western New York?

“I see girl’s hockey growing in Section V (the Rochester area),” answered Hopkins. “Outside of Buffalo, that area has the second most girls registered with USA Hockey.

“Here in Western New York, there are still some school districts that want to get in but don’t have the numbers right now. The girls game is going to continue growing in Western New York.

“My crystal ball shows that we’re here to stay.”

(Photos by Janet Schultz Photography/NY Hockey OnLine)