It was only a handful of years ago that there were eight York-area high school teams participating in the Central Pennsylvania Interscholastic Hockey League.
Due to many factors, however, that number has dwindled steadily.
Now, only two county squads remain — Central York/Dallastown and Susquehannock, with both playing in the CPIHL's lowest level, Tier 3.
The two local programs clashed Wednesday evening at the York City Ice Arena for a regular-season battle. After Susquehannock evened up the score at 2-2 in the second period, the Central/Dallastown club responded with three unanswered goals to claim a 5-2 victory.
"That's the closest that anyone's played us so far the year," said Central/Dallastown coach Rich Ostrowski after his club improved to 4-0-0.
The relative dominance of the combined Central/Dallastown team should not come as much of a surprise. Just a season ago, both teams were able to field squads that played at the highest level, Tier 1. Many of Ostrowski's players also play for the York Devils travel teams. Travel players are almost always more advanced in the sport than those that typically play at the Tier 3 level.
Ostrowski, however, isn't being overly demanding of his players. They rarely have time to schedule practices together. Instead, Ostrowski, a Dallastown High School graduate, has just one main message for his players.
"Just go out, have fun and don't get hurt," he said. "I coach most of these kids (with the Devils' 18-A midget team) on weekends, which is why I do this," he said. "I tell them that this is just about having fun and don't worry about losing a hockey game."
Ostrowski cites two reasons for the decreasing number of York-area CPIHL teams. For starters, it's expensive to participate in a non-school sponsored sport, such as ice hockey. He estimates it could cost up to $800 a year to play in the CPIHL. That's an expense that a lot of families can't afford.
"Some of the kids that would have played, that don't play travel, just didn't because of the money issue," he said. "Buying equipment is expensive and it's just an extra expense that families just can't afford right now."
Asking the schools to sponsor the teams isn't realistic either.
"I don't know that (sponsorship) is a feasible option for school districts right now," he said. "Wilson had their own sponsored team but they folded. I think hockey right now, as far as high schools go, is a luxury."
The other major reason is a general lack of interest at the high school level.
"It's just not a popular sport," he said. "Around here, it's just not. A lot of kids are playing lacrosse or soccer or football."
Game notes: Susquehannock took the lead in the first period on a goal by Nicolas Prego. That advantage, however, was short-lived. Central/Dallastown's Alan Reider and Brandon Heath each scored just 98 seconds apart.
After Nathan Smith tied the contest with 8:27 left in the second for Susquehannock, Ostrowski's team regained the lead for good when Jordan Kline lit the lamp late in the period.
Ethan Schwartz, who tallied a pair of assists as well, and Harrison Batt scored in the third to close out the victory for Central/Dallastown.
Griffin Long recorded 19 saves in the victory, while Hayden Folfas registered 16 saves in the loss for Susquehannock (1-3-0).
— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.