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Ice Hockey Comes to Saint Mary’s High School in Stockton

STOCKTON -- When you think of high school sports this time of year, naturally, you think of football.

But there is a group of young men at Saint Mary's in Stockton who are playing a different sport, one very few in Northern California are playing at the high school level.

It started as just an idea 13 months ago when it came up in a conversation with Saint Mary's High School President Jim Brusa.

"Have we ever thought about hockey as a sport in high school?" Brusa recalled.

Brusa and Athletic Director Adam Lichter then sought out the one man in Stockton who could head such an endeavor, former San Jose Shark's assistant coach Derek Eisler.

"He was excited and he kind of had this vision of having a hockey program here in Northern California and we said, 'Let's go with it,'" Lichter said.

"There was probably ... some people are doubters, you know. You're going to run into that. But we saw the opportunity and wanted to take advantage of it," Brusa told FOX40.

Earlier this week, the Rams held their first practice, making Saint Mary's the only school in the Sac-Joaquin Section to field an ice hockey team and just the third in Northern California.

But not all the players are from the Stockton area.

"We have kids from Lodi, Ceres, Patterson, Portland, Oregon, Bakersfield," Lichter said.

"We used contacts throughout California to eyeball some kids that might be interested and just through word-of-mouth got a little bit of recruiting going," Eisler said. "The hard process was to make sure that the school and the hockey program now get connected."

That will mean kids from all over the country and beyond wanting to come to Saint Mary's to play ice hockey.

"We're all trying to go places to extend our hockey career to, hopefully, at least college," said Saint Mary's hockey player Ethan Saldanha.

"We want to play up-tempo," Eisler said. "We want to play skilled hockey. So I think our brand of hockey is going to attract people to us."

Saint Mary's will play in the Anaheim Ducks League down south, which means quite a bit of traveling for their first year, but that's expected.

"There's going to be a lot of firsts this year, as our coach said. First game, first win, first practice was Monday," Saldanha said.

Saint Mary's is playing against Bellarmine out of San Jose at the Oak Park Ice Skating Arena on Sept. 9.

The governing body for high school sports in California, the California Interscholastic Federation, does not have ice hockey on their roster. So, for the time being, USA Hockey serves that role for high school ice hockey in the state.