Four years ago, an ice hockey program was born at Severn School. It was the fall of 1998, and four eighth-graders joined a team that played what amounted to a junior varsity schedule.
The program was in its infancy, and that first year the team struggled to a 3-10 record under the direction of a 28-year-old former college player named John Turner. Severn went 7-7 the next season. After that promising campaign, the team entered a new league -- the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association -- and ascended to an 8-6-1 mark. Last season, Severn won the MIAA A Division championship over St. Paul's of Baltimore, 8-3, and jubilation reigned on Water Street in Severna Park.
Today, those four eighth-graders -- Lyon Ellison, Kip Turner, Danny Ricciotti and Adam Zerhouni -- are seniors, lacing up the skates for one final high school season with the goal of putting another banner in the school gym and leaving their mark as charter members -- the final ones -- of a Severn team they hope will carry on for decades to come.
"At the beginning, I thought, 'Well, this will last for a few years.' But every season I saw more and more -- just the way we really play hard," Zerhouni said. "And last season when we won the championship, I said, 'This is it!' For the first time I said to myself, 'This is going to last. This is going to be around for a while.' "
For John Turner, the "project" of 1998 has now become a full-blown realization that he could build a team from nothing. The four senior veterans have been a large part of that success.
The most talented on the ice is Ellison, whose rise to the captaincy was predicted by Turner in Lyon's earliest days on the ice at Severn.
"I commented to our assistant [when Ellison was in 8th grade], 'Give Lyon four or five years, he's gonna be our captain.' I could see he was going to be a good leader for us," Turner said.
Ellison and hockey have been intertwined since he was 7 years old. He also plays club hockey, chasing down pucks for the Tri-City Sharks of the Capital Beltway Hockey League. His biggest asset to the team? "The will to win -- play every game like it's my last," said Ellison, with a steely-eyed look. "Who knows when an injury will come up?"
Ellison is hoping to attend the Naval Academy next year (he has also applied to the Air Force Academy) and is being recruited to play lacrosse in Annapolis. But he said that if he attends Navy, he will keep his ice skills sharp by playing club hockey.
While many a player has suited up for his father while playing high school athletics, few have done so for his brother. Such is case with Kip Turner, who is 16 years John's junior. Like Ellison, he started playing hockey at a young age. So young, in fact, that a 2-year-old Kip Turner was the subject of a short article in Sports Illustrated (in the magazine's Scorecard section) in 1987 -- and in that year's hugely popular swimsuit issue, no less.
"When he was 18 months old he learned to skate," John Turner recalled. "He had a shortened stick and a pacifier."
Now he turns away slap shots with such aplomb that his teammates are quick to praise his role in last year's MIAA title run.
"He keeps us in a game," Ricciotti said. Zerhouni added: "If there's one guy we can count on, it's Kip. We know he'll show up every day." Turner will attend the University of Virginia next fall on a lacrosse scholarship.
Ricciotti, a right winger, is a player Coach Turner called "a hard-nosed kid. He does the little things -- works hard in the corners of the ice, gets rebounds, gets deflections." He will attend Purdue University next fall, but even before he receives his high school diploma, he will earn another impressive document, especially for a 17-year-old: his airplane pilot's license. Ricciotti remembered how a 1-4-1 start last season sparked a resurgent attitude that led to the league title. "That kind of woke a lot of kids up," he said. "After that game, we started stepping up and looking a lot better."
Zerhouni, who Turner moved from offense to defense after his sophomore year, might not be a big star, but he keeps plugging away. "He's willing to [play] lots of different positions. He plays defense now and he's willing to get in there and help out where he can," Turner said.
Zerhouni also spoke of the team mantra: " 'Move the mountain.' It's something that coach has said to us for four, five years. Move our opponents out of the way as if they were mountains."