Chemistry lights fire under NorthviewWritten by Scott Calhoun | | email@example.com
Coming into the 2007-08 high school ice hockey season, St. John’s Jesuit and St. Francis de Sales were considered the cream of the crop in the Northwest Hockey Conference Red Division.
Off to a 7-0 start, including a 3-0 division mark, Sylvania Northview has swiftly added itself to the list.
Two years removed from a state runner-up finish, the Wildcats already own a telling 2-0 blanking over the defending conference and state champion Titans.
“That gave us a lot of momentum going into the rest of the season,” said senior goalie Craig Trego, who posted the shutout. “A lot of people thought it would just be St. John’s or St. Francis, and I think we’ve made people turn their heads to look at us a little bit more.”
Despite the hot start, going undefeated in the league isn’t likely for the Wildcats, although they did so two years ago (9-0-1) and won the Red title.
It’s a difficult feat in a six-team division loaded with programs that own a combined 53 trips to the state Frozen Four, with nine state titles and 13 runner-up finishes.
“I’d like us to go undefeated again, but I’m realistic,” said head coach Jim Cooper. “The division, to everyone’s advantage, has excellent teams from top to bottom. This year alone there are three or four capable of bringing home a state title.”
A season ago, the 25-10-1 Wildcats hunted for a second consecutive division crown, but St. John’s defeated them twice. Northview settled again for a status it wishes more than anything to avoid at any level this winter.
If it’s true that second place is no consolation, then Cooper, coach for all seven state berths, and his Wildcats are the poster team for being ravenously hungry to finally emerge on top of Ohio.
Even with seven state Frozen Four appearances and three runner-up finishes to its credit since the first trip in 1981, the program still lacks a state crown.
Twice the Wildcats have come up an overtime goal shy of the prize. In 2006, they succumbed to Parma Padua by a 2-1 deficit.
Three state title appearances with three losses by a single goal each time.
Five of the 11 current seniors took part in the most recent near miss. Trego watched as the backup net minder. With the proverbial hourglass sifting away on their respective prep careers, the desire to achieve the biggest of team goals is fueled even more.
“They know they only have a handful of weeks left to play,” said Cooper, “so I think their desire to win is that much more intense.”
“Since we’ve got a league title but not a state title yet, that’s pretty much our main goal at this point,” Trego said.
Trego continuing his outstanding play in net will be a vital aspect for the Wildcats’ chances. He currently has a 7-0 record, 160 saves in 173 opportunities for a .925 save percentage and a 1.86 GAA.
Career-wise, Trego is on pace to snap a handful of school marks, some of them maintained for a decade by his brother, Todd, a 1997 Wildcat grad.
He’s 22 triumphs away from being the all-time school leader in wins and two shutouts away from seizing that mark. Save percentage and GAA career marks are also within the grasp of Trego’s gloves.
“He should own all those, when all is said and done,” said assistant coach Steve Elliott.
Among the other veteran seniors, forward Carter Bourland currently leads the team with 17 goals and has five assists. Two of his tallies came in the win over St. John’s.
Alongside Bourland on the first line, Brandon Snead’s seven goals and 15 assists double the pain for opposing defenses.
“Carter’s a great finisher and Brandon can finish, but is most dangerous setting up his teammates,” Cooper said.
Forward Tyler Cook is a forechecking beast for the Wildcats, and forward Christian Simon causes havoc all over the ice.
“Simon plays very well away from the puck,” Cooper said.
Tyler Puhl and Eamonn Reynolds anchor the defense in front of Trego.
“Without them back there, our team would be in a lot of trouble,” Cooper said.
While the Wildcats have a very talented, playoff-tested core, a lack of overall depth could eventually take its toll.
“We’re not as deep as St. John’s or St. Francis,” said Cooper, “so we have to stay healthy. Losing anyone to sickness, injuries or grades would be very damaging to us.”
What both Reynolds and Elliott agree on as the most important strength to counter any impediments is unity, something each noted the team lacked a year ago.
“Our downfall last year was we didn’t have team chemistry,” Elliott said. “Last summer we got [the seniors] together and asked them to understand the importance of leadership and chemistry, and not to get down on the underclassmen.”
“Last year there was too much separation,” Reynolds agreed. “That meeting really opened our eyes, and now this year’s seniors are real close. No one gets down on each other.”
The lingering memory of coming up just short in opportunities past could also be a catalyst, through desire and sheer determination, for unprecedented success.
“These guys know what it’s all about now,” Cooper said. “We know we’re going to get roughed up from time to time, but the only way we’re to continue going up is to stay tough.”