(Photo courtesy Ringgold Hockey Association, via Facebook)
Clayton Colecchi doesn’t feel any different aversion to playing hockey with a different high school on the front of his sweater. The South Allegheny High School sophomore wanted a chance to compete in the PIHL -- the governing body for high school hockey in Western Pennsylvania -- and playing under the Ringgold Hockey banner was his only option.
South Allegheny is part of a wide-ranging agreement that features eight schools, including Belle Vernon, Bentworth, Brownsville, California and Yough.
“I’ve embraced it and so have the other kids in my school,” Colecchi said. “They come out and watch the games and support it. They don’t care if it’s Ringgold, they consider it South Allegheny.”
Colecchi, a sophomore defender, was the only South Allegheny student on Ringgold’s roster this season. The Rams were eliminated from the postseason Monday night, losing to Burrell 6-4 in the semifinals of the Division 2 Penguins Cup playoffs at the RMU Island Sports Center.
Colecchi is the last remaining South Allegheny student after five played last season.
Ringgold provided the most players on this year’s roster with eight. Yough (three), Belle Vernon (three), Charleroi (two) and California (two) fill out the rest of the lineup.
“We’ve been together since August and have been working non-stop,” Colecchi said. “Over time, we’re going to get to know each other really well. A lot of us play hockey outside of high school in other tournaments teams, that’s a good way to get to know kids too.”
Colecchi helped orchestrate a major turnaround for Ringgold (15-5). The Rams, who finished 9-9-2 a year ago, outscored their opponents 82-52 this season under first-year coach Rick Kalinowski.
Colecchi tied for the lead -- along with Ryan Marek (Belle Vernon) and Jacob Booher (Ringgold) -- among the team’s defensemen with four goals. He also added two assists.
“Clayton is the type of kid who doesn’t disappoint,” Kalinowski said. “He always goes 100 percent.”
Kalinowski, who formerly coached at South Park, said balancing all the players from different school districts required a club approach. Most of his kids play on amateur teams, which are travel squads made up of players from around the area, so Kalinowski wanted everyone to mesh like they did there.
“You would think it’s a challenge, but I remember from day one, I told the kids, some of you know each other, some of you don’t, from other amateur programs --- so let’s treat this like an amateur program,” Kalinowski said. “As a team, we’re not playing for a particular school, although we’re under Ringgold, we are one team no matter who we are.”
Kalinowski decided to make Colecchi’s defensive partner Hunter Suarez, who is a freshman at Ringgold.
Their contrasting styles made them solid partners.
“Hunter plays a physical game and he’s fast,” Colecchi said. “I like to play conservative. If he were to hop up into play, I would cover for him. We both play an offensive game, we have goals on the year and a couple assists. It’s nice to have us paired together, it’s perfect.”
Working toward perfection has helped this co-op find its legs. Colecchi would like to see the notoriety continue to translate into victories.
“I think it’s good for Ringgold,” Colecchi said. “It’s been a while since we made it past the first round. Ringgold never had a big name in Division 2. After this year, teams are going to know who we are, which is nice.”
Originally published March 14, 2018.