The Freedom Patriots were the best team to not make the playoffs in the 2019-20 season. Towards the end of their run, there was a scenario in which to make it to the post season, they had to beat out the Newsome Wolves. December 13th, Newsome beat Freedom in their only head to head match up, so for Freedom to take the final Eastern Conference wildcard spot back from Newsome, they would have to win their last three games and hope Newsome lost their last three games. Here's how it played out. Newsome loses against Plant, Mitchell and Jenkins in close games, but still walks away with 0 of 6 possible points. Freedom has to collect four points from division rival Wiregrass, and beat River Ridge. They only managed to collect 3 out of 4 points from Wiregrass. A heartbreaking 2-2 tie after Richie Cox hit the post short handed in the third period meant the season came to an early end as Newsome advanced to the playoffs over Freedom.
Richie Cox has his work cut out for him this next season. Former LHSHL player of the year and Captain Owen Barno has graduated along with another top forward Dylan O'Connor. The Patriots will look to Richie Cox and his line-mates to step up this season and light up the scoreboard if they hope to not be the best team to not make it this year. After speaking with him this last week, He knows what to do and he's not nervous, he"s been training for this for years, "I started skating about ten years ago. I first got on a recreational team in Brandon before switching over to playing travel two years later. I've played for about every travel team in the area now as I've worn the jersey for the Jr. Bulls, Jr. Lightning, Gulf Coast Flames, Scorpions, Clearwater Ice Storm this past season, and at one point I was team captain for the Tampa Bay Crunch."
I asked him what separates him from the average playing in the Lightning High School Hockey League, "I give 500% every time I'm on the ice, even if I'm having an off day. I train with private coaches in order to fulfill of being able to play hockey at a higher level, and to continue playing hockey for a long time. Whenever I have been told I'm not good enough, it gives me motivation to prove myself to not only everyone else, but also to myself. I am constantly working to improve myself." His killer mentality shows up in game play as I can attest that he was one of this past years freshman class that you didn't want to see yourself chasing a puck into the corner with. I asked him what he thought about his team, and what he thought about playing in the LHSHL in general, " All my teammates have been great. I really get out there and play. I think it’s great to play with all skills levels and give everyone a chance. If I can help any teammate out I am more than willing to do so. I love the locker room. Before a game everyone is having fun and listening to music. Coach Speciale is always positive and encouraging. He encourages us to play hard but have fun." I asked him if he felt he hit his goals for his freshman year, " Going into this season I just wanted to be able to play with kids I haven't skated with or against before and I got to do that every Friday night. In school I just wanted to make it through my first year of high school with all A's and B's. My goal is to keep the grades up so by the time I'm a senior I can hopefully get an academic and sports based scholarship to go play hockey at a good school. I'd love to get a degree in Cyber Security or Computer Programming but I hope that hockey can take me other places as well. I'd love to play D1 and then professional is possible. It doesn't have to be the NHL. I would play in Europe if given the opportunity, I just want to play pro and continue to play as long as I can."
At the end of the day, despite Richie having a cold-hearted killer mentality, I joked around with him and broke through to see he had some youth left in his heart. He credits Chicken Cesar Salad as his go to food and told me he wears 47 because his birthday is April 7th. He skateboards for fun, and knows this is the time to balance hockey with school and hanging out with friends. He's just thankful for where he is and wants to help lead Freedom back to the playoffs. He says the first advice he'll give to new players come the Fall is, "Don’t be scared to get hit. Some guys are bigger. Skate as fast as you can. Take the shot if it’s yours but know when to pass. A passing game is a good game." He'll still make sure that they listen to Coach Speciale when he tells them to have fun. To end off everything, he just wanted to tell everyone he loves his parents, "I’m thankful for my mom. My mom drove me everywhere and went to every single game. She always thinks I do great even when I think I don’t. I’m thankful to my dad for being able to financially support my hockey ambitions. He always believes in me." I feel sorry for anybody that has to line up for a face off against a line consisting of Richie Cox, Matthew Speciale, and Jacob Karch next year, but I also can't wait to see the damage they do in making sure everyone steps up to the plate in bringing Freedom back to the playoffs. Expect big numbers from number 47 these next few years.