The West Chester Rustin ice hockey team is a force to be reckoned with year in and year out.
Veteran head coach Nick Russo has a lot to do with the continued success of the program, which is on the cusp of reaching 250 wins. Russo has been the varsity coach since 2006, when Rustin became the third high school in the West Chester Area School District.
Russo has guided the Golden Knights to seven Flyers Cup championships, five state titles, and a 2017 national championship.
“Obviously, to have such success in a short period of time is a compliment to the players and families involved,” Russo said. “The great thing about the organization is the kids that came first really set the tone.”
Last year, Rustin held off California’s Santa Margarita Catholic High School, 4-3, in the Pure Division national championship game of the USA Hockey High School Nationals. It was a revenge game for Rustin after losing to the team from the West Coast earlier in the tournament.
The Golden Knights became the first local team and just the second Pennsylvania-based team to claim a national championship, following Bethel Park, which won the title in 2014.
The win capped a magical 2016-17 season for Rustin, which captured its fourth straight Flyers Cup crown and a fourth state championship in a row before heading to Cleveland for nationals. In addition, Russo was named USA Hockey Atlantic District coach of the year. The award is presented to the best coach in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Despite the past success, Russo believes this year’s team is the most well-rounded of them all.
“In terms of depth, this year’s team is probably the best I’ve had at Rustin,” he said.
Forwards Nick Ferraro and Matt Owens lead an attack that has scored more than 100 goals. Brett Turner, Jack Page, Connor Lapps, Evan Yori, Daniel Turner, and Justin Owens make up the main components of the defense. Joel Keller has spent the majority of the season between the pipes, but Conor Marley has played a few games.
The Golden Knights sat atop the Inter-County Scholastic Hockey League Ches-Mont Division heading into Thursday’s game against Downingtown West.
Russo, who started coaching in 1983, is on the verge of 350 career wins at the high school level, which includes stints with Iroquois (1983-85) and West Chester East (1988-92, 1994-96). He has also spent time in the college ranks: assistant coach at West Chester (1986-91), assistant coach at Villanova (1991-94), head coach at Villanova (1996-98), and head coach at Neumann (1998-2004).
He attributes his success over the years to surrounding himself with the right people.
“I just think it’s a compliment to the kids. I surround myself with great people,” Russo said. “It’s been a great career, and if it ended today, I would be happy.”