It is a story of perseverance, a portrait of athletic resilience.

Throw in an ample dose of guts and patience and one has Shepaug Valley High School's co-op ice hockey team.

What team could own an 0-17 record and be outscored by a cumulative 121-10 margin and possibly keep bouncing back?

That would be coach Michael Gorra's skeleton crew of never-say-die Spartan skaters.

"The kids do work hard," understated coach Gorra, now in his third campaign as head coach and seventh in all coaching with the program.

"This has been the most trying season for the team and the coaching staff," he admitted. "The small numbers and then the loss of two players [to academic ineligibility] has really pushed us to the limit."

As they head this week into the final three matches of the winter, the team features a remarkably gritty and talented goaltender, Peter Dauten of Litchfield High, and nine skaters.

Yes, that's right, nine skaters.

"Really, [it's] beyond the limit. Eight to nine skaters is so taxing on them," said coach Gorra. "Most teams we are playing have 22-26 players and we get worn down."

Doing their utmost to uphold the Shepaug hockey tradition and support goaltender Dauten are Anthony Graziani, Gavin Hausburg, Alex Howe, David Krukowski, Kenyon Moore and Greg Valentine of Shepaug, and Ryan Gannon, Rob Murray and Stephen Nalband of Litchfield.

"I am so proud of the way these 10 players have bonded and come together," reflected their bench boss.

"They are able to leave each game with their heads held high, knowing that they put it all on the line against staggering odds."

Often, the Spartans skate for one, perhaps two periods with their rivals before the numbers game does them in.

They have scored more than one goal just once, last Friday at The Gunnery in Washington vs. Horace Greeley (N.Y.) High School.

"Peter Dauten has been a shining star," reported his coach. "He has improved so much in the past two months.

"He clearly has made more saves than anyone in the league, maybe even in the state. He has become the true leader of this group."

Could there be hope for growth in the program?

It isn't like Shepaug has never been a success in ice hockey.

In fact, coach Gorra was a key player for the Spartans back in the mid-1980s when they played their way to the first of two state title matches.

The pool of players and thus talent has diminished in recent years, but coach Gorra is hopeful there are avenues to be explored to bolster the program's stock of skaters.

That dream and the fact none of the current 10 players will be graduating give the ex-Spartan standout hope he'll see better days behind the bench.

"We are looking at the last two weeks of the season as training for next year, especially if we [add players next year]," he concluded.

­--Norm Cummings