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New Richmond Bantam B team wins state for Nate

Members of the New Richmond Bantam B state hockey championship team include (front, l-r) Jakob Larson, Mikah Kier, Noah Towberman, Owen McConaughey, Lucas Alm, Croix Hurtis and Jonny Buchman; (back) Coach Joe Hailey, Connor Iverson, Ryan Greer, Zach Swiggum, Coach Ryan Neville, Jake Weninger, Tyler Vizenor, Ben Karno, Brandon Schaub and Keith Magler.

Why compete for a state championship? For the New Richmond Bantam B hockey team, the answer may not be just the obvious one.

The Bantams went to state, and won it, for Nate. Nathan Ryckman, who was scheduled to coach the team this winter, died of complications of pneumonia on Thanksgiving. His team, coached by friend and co-worker Ryan Neville and Joe Hailey, dedicated their season and their trip to state to Nate.

The Bantam B team earned a berth to the past weekend's 2B state tournament at McFarland, on an Olympic-size ice surface. The Tigers played an early 8 a.m. game Saturday defeating opponent Elmbrook in the first round. Before the second round, the Tigers received a special phone call from Coach Nate's dad.

Whitney Smith, Coach Neville's fiancée and team supporter in her own right, received the call and proceeded to gather the team to share the message received. Tom Ryckman, Nate's father, had called from Las Vegas after hearing from Nina, Nate's wife, about what the Tigers were doing for his son.

Expressing his gratitude, he also wished the team luck for the rest of the tournament. In the second round, following that call, the Tigers beat a big Arrowhead team 3-1 in possibly their toughest contest of the weekend. In the state championship game, the Tigers took on the DePere Voyageurs. The final score: New Richmond 7, DePere 4.

What made the tournament more than a set of games was the focus the young men brought with them. Wearing Army hats emblazoned with a Tiger and "Going to State for Nate," the young men honored Nate and Coach Ryan, both active military men, and Coach Hailey, with their actions on and off the ice. Upon scoring his first goal of the tournament, veteran Bantam player Jake Weninger proceeded to salute, showing clearly he was playing for Coach Nate. When asked about Coach Nate, teammate Tyler Vizenor stated, "Nate had a great sense of humor. He took it [hockey] seriously but had fun. He was nice and open."

Clearly, the young men of the New Richmond Bantam B's had a good year. Coaches Neville and Hailey helped the boys grow into young men. The coaches' attention to all the players and their focus and dedication to teaching the game and having fun playing a sport they both clearly love was tremendous. Coach Ryckman's wife Nina and parents can be proud of not just the boys but the coaches as well knowing that Nate's plans for the team were carried out.