Northampton Press

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Ice hockey team still going strong

Thursday, November 14, 2013 by WENDY KENNEDY Special to the Press in Sports

During the 1990-1991 season, the Northampton Varsity Ice Hockey program was born with only 12 players on the roster.

After a turn of events left the new organization without someone to run the team, Brian Ruff and his wife Raeann found themselves taking on the task of sustaining the new team and the rest, as they say, is history.

Twenty-two seasons later, the Northampton Ice Hockey Club (NIHC) has grown to over 100 players and six teams. The club is the largest organization in the Lehigh Valley Scholastic Ice Hockey Association, and on most nights during hockey season, you'll still find the Ruff's at the Lehigh Valley Ice Arena, working to sustain the club that has become their passion.

Raeann Ruff, the team's manager, remembers the first team as being mainly football players looking for a sport to play in their offseason. With interest growing in Northampton, the Ruff's quickly implemented a Junior Varsity team and the organization continued to grow. The Ruff's credit the continued growth of the organization, even in those early days, to the draw of the sport.

"Once you come to a game, you're hooked," laughs Ruff. "Kids would come to see their friends play and they wanted to play too."

As the seasons passed and more players came out, it came to their attention that many of the players in the youth in-house hockey league (at the Whitehall rink) were Northampton kids. So, the decision was made to form a Northampton Youth team.

"We realized so many of these kids were from Northampton," explained Ruff, "and we thought these kids should be playing for their own town."

In the 1997-1998 season, the first Northampton Kids youth hockey team was formed and with it came the former in-house coach, Brian Vandergrift and his wife Debbie. With the addition of the Vandergrifts and a youth hockey team, the Northampton Ice Hockey Club was complete.

Coach Ruff and Coach Vandergrift would continue to build the organization and teach kids of all ages to love the sport of hockey.

Raeann and Debbie would take on the daunting tasks of registering players, arranging ice time, scheduling games and keeping the club running. Long after their own children have grown and left the organization, the Ruffs and the Vandergrifts still dedicate hours of their own time to keep the Northampton Ice Hockey Club flourishing.

Perhaps one of the most memorable seasons over the past 22 years occurred during the 2006-2007 season.

The Northampton varsity team (that was comprised of the kids that had made up the first youth team in Northampton) would make it to the Flyers Cup Scholastic Championship Tournament and would achieve a win in a first round game.

This tournament pits some of the best teams from eastern Pennsylvania against each other in a battle for the ultimate prize of playing in the PA High School Ice Hockey Championship game.

"A win in the Flyers Cup was a big deal, it was the first time our club had gotten to a game at that level," said Ruff.

The ladies just laugh when asked what keeps them and their husbands committed to the sport after all these years.

"We just love to watch the kids," explains Vandergrift. "It's so great to see them grow up in this sport. Some people don't realize the coordination, balance and stamina required to play hockey. It's amazing to see the kids go from barely being able to stand on the ice to playing this game so well."

As for the future of the NIHC, when asked how long they will be involved, Ruff just smiles and says "we'll be here".

And so, in Northampton, the legacy continues as more and more kids discover hockey each year and enrollment continues to grow.

Former players are now fans, coaches and even parents themselves - dreaming of the day when their children will join the Kids, coach Ruff and coach Vandergrift on the ice.