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Richards resigns as boys' hockey coach

Ross Richards resigned as the West Fargo boys' hockey coach last week, taking with him 17 years of memories as he looks to the future.

He will assume new duties with the high school's rapidly growing co-curricular program and will continue his assistant coaching duties with the varsity football team. Richards currently teaches geography at Cheney Middle School and has one year left on his three-year appointment as the North Dakota/Minnesota representative to the national high school hockey rules committee.

"I have met a lot of good people along the way, and I'm going to miss those relationships and working with those kids. There's a lot of good kids you work with, and you're going to miss that day-to-day interaction," said Richards. "You're going to miss the relationships you have with other coaches in the country and in North Dakota. Those are bonds you develop over time, and you're just going to miss those things. The human aspect of coaching is the thing I'm going to miss the most."

Richards has by far the most wins in Packer hockey history since taking over the team prior to the 1991-1992 season. Before his arrival, Packer hockey hadn't had a single winning season - ever.

The team had never made the state tournament either. Richards' teams have won 12 games three times (00-01, 02-03 and 05-06) in the past eight seasons. No Packer team has ever won more than 12 games for West Fargo, making Richards the coach of the three top winning teams in school history. He's coached eight of the top 10 most successful high school hockey teams in West Fargo as well.

Richards also guided the Packers to their only state tournament trip in school history, when they took fourth at state in 2003.

Senior Kirby Keller, who became the first all-state goalie in school history this year, recently said he'd miss Richards, after playing for him throughout high school.

"The things that Ross has taught us both on and off the ice is stuff that will stick with you the rest of your life," he said.

Richards can be credited with seeking tougher competition for his teams in an effort to improve the program. Rather than playing weaker conference teams like Wahpeton or Fargo Shanley several times each year, West Fargo played some WDA teams in recent years and competed only in Minnesota holiday tournaments during winter breaks.

Teams such as Grafton-Park River, Grand Forks Red River, Grand Forks Central and Fargo South continually make the state tournament year in and year out - making 2003 truly a special year for Packer hockey. Richards rates the state tourney trip as one of his top memories.

"People that truly understand hockey in North Dakota and the way that you qualify for the state tournament in boys' hockey, it makes it very difficult from the East, unless you're one of the premier programs...To make state was really a special thing," said Richards. "We obviously would have liked to have that happen more, but reality is that it's a difficult task unless you're one of those programs that is a traditional power."

A native of Eveleth, Minn., Richards played hockey at Concordia College and was an assistant at Jamestown High School for two years before taking over at West Fargo. He is a USA Hockey Master Level Certified Coach and was named the EDC coach of the year in 1996.

West Fargo activities director Curt Jones will lead the search for a new coach, who will take over a team that went 4-17-2 in 2007-08 and will graduate eight players this spring.

Richards said he wants to thank the various assistant coaches he's had over the years for their support as well as the players he coached.

One of Richard's more talented players was West Fargo's all-time leading scorer Jessie Reese (class of '00). Reese remembers getting in trouble a couple of times in high school for drinking under age. He said Richards didn't overreact, but also let him know it was unacceptable.

"He wasn't a jerk or anything, but he would let you know that it wasn't good for the school or the reputation of West Fargo," said Reese. "He was always nice with me to get me to straighten up a little and stay out of trouble."

Like Keller, Reese said he learned more than just hockey out on the ice when playing for Richards.

"Just the value of hard work and that type of thing," Reese said. "Just to give it all you can, and he was always there to help you and give you some good advice. He was a good coach."