STATE COLLEGE – The setting may have drastically changed, but the tradition didn’t as the West Chester Bayard Rustin boys ice hockey team sat down to a buffet dinner of baked ziti and chicken parmesan.
In a ritual which has been going on since Rustin won its first and only State Championship in 2009, the team gathers together the night before a Friday game to enjoy a dinner and become a close knit of brothers over teammates.
“We had a couple every now and then,” said Rustin head coach Nick Russo. “It really became an everyday thing. It’s just grown into this thing.”
This time, though, the boys settled down to dinner at Rotelli in State College as they prepare to play against Quaker Valley High School (Leetsdale, Pa.) for the state title at the new Pegula Ice Arena at Penn State University Saturday.
Since winning the Flyers Cup March 12, Russo has taken things pretty easy on his team since many also play on club teams as well.
“I gave them Thursday and Friday off,” he said. “We did practice this weekend and then on Tuesday and Thursday. Part of this whole thing has been giving them the opportunity to recover a little bit.”
But that doesn’t mean the coaching staff has been taking time off.
“I put in at least 40 hours a week for Rustin,” Russo said. “It was game film, coaches meetings every other night when weren’t practicing, scouting reports, statistics and who’s doing what.”
In fact, the Rustin staff have had a slight advantage in regards to video since Quaker Valley’s league broadcasts the games online whereas the Inter County Scholastic Hockey League doesn’t.
That helped factor into Russo’s decision not to have a structured practice once the team arrived Friday at Penn State, which disgruntled Quaker Valley players who lined the upper floor of the arena to watch Rustin.
“My motive was to not show them anything because I knew they were practicing right before us,” Russo said. “They never got that look tonight. [Rustin] needed that down time and that bonding time.”
Regardless, this isn’t the first time the two teams have met each other on the state level. Both have reached the State Championships on numerous occasions, but they clashed head-to-head in 2012 with Quaker Valley coming out on top, but not without the controversy of an ineligible goaltender.
“I had a lot [of film],” Russo said. “We had game film on a lot of their games. That’s one of the things I used to do for a living was game film and scouting reports.”
Nothing will change for Rustin in the noon game Saturday as Russo will keep the lineup exactly the same as the Flyers Cup Championships last week.
As Rustin returns for its fourth State Championship game, they’ll look at this as a chance to exact revenge for 2012.
“This is a grudge match,” Russo said. “There’s an old Muhammad Ali quote that when he was a kid, he worked all summer to be able to buy a used bike. He bought the bike and the first day he got it, somebody stole it … He never found out. When he got in the ring, he looked across and thought that’s the guy that stole my bike. That was his incentive.
“[Quaker Valley] stole our bike two years ago. We’re going to get it back tomorrow.”