By Ryan Kaczmarski
The preseason holiday tournaments are over and ROCKY RIVER will head into the regular season with a record of 5-0. The Pirates swept through their own Rocky River Hockey Classic Thanksgiving Tournament, beating Olmsted Falls, Kenston, Mentor and Hudson twice, including a 7-4 victory in the championship game on Nov. 28.
“Just like last year, we beat them (Hudson) in the opening round and they came after us,” said Pirates head coach Chris Cogan.
“Pretty much, tonight was all about special teams play,” he added. “There were a lot of power-play goals for both of us.”
Pirates’ senior forward Max Lurie had a three-point game, with two goals (13:28 pp, 7:53 in the first period) and one assist. Junior forward Bobby Perez and sophomore forward Tyler Harkins each scored two goals in the victory, and junior forward Eric Sperli chipped in with an open-net goal as time was running out in the third period.
The Pirates overcame one-goal deficits in the first and second periods to avenge last year’s championship game loss to Hudson in the same tournament.
“This is why we skate at the end of practice,” Cogan said. “(We) find our legs and fight hard for the last 15 minutes. That’s where games are won or lost, in the last period.”
Starting forwards Sperli, Lurie and Harkins were named MVP’s of the tournament, with 32 combined goals.
The other skaters making up the first line for the Pirates are junior goaltender Jake Nicholson, senior defender Bobby Neundorfer and freshman defender Matt Lowry.
The Pirates lost nine key players from last year’s team that had a record of 19-11 going in to the state tournament.
“We have these younger guys that are coming up and filling roles and that’s what we need,” Cogan said. “My returning guys need to help the younger guys and start ‘cracking the whip.’
“I hope we build on this (winning streak),” he added. “It’s a big confidence booster. You can’t beat winning five games in a row and starting league play.”
The WESTLAKE team has also started on an unbeaten streak by winning the Nordonia Invitational Tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
They beat Western Reserve Academy (11-1), Twinsburg (10-0), Midview (4-3 in a shootout) and Nordonia (12-0) to start the year with a record of 4-0.
The Demons had a record of 3-10-3 last season. It was the first year the program played an independent schedule.
The returning players from last year are Kent Axcell, Rudy Keppler, Ben Thurstone, Adam Sandor, James Jenkins and Harrison Keppler. The key newcomer is senior goaltender Matt Russell. Jenkins, Russell, Harrison Keppler and Joon Kim are the senior captains.
“Matt (Russell) will raise our level of play,” said Westlake head coach John Duke. “They (the seniors) bring a maturity to the team that we did not have last year.”
The biggest games on the schedule are against Canfield, Amherst, Bay and Olmsted Falls (Youth Hockey Night).
The team strengths this year are goaltending and overall team speed. Coach Duke sees the team weaknesses as the maturity of the program to compete at the highest level for the entire season.
The BAY program is coming off an injury-riddled, 4-15-2 season in which two separate players each had broken wrists, another had a concussion and the starting goaltender received 15 stitches.
The key returning letter winners are seniors Christian Nye, Chris Henke, Matt Stone and Fred Blaine, juniors Jake Kirk and Tim Figueira, and sophomores Chris Gulley and John Swearingen. The key newcomers are juniors Pat Hill and Alex Tobar, and freshmen Jonah Held, Kevin Dailey and Daniel Linhart.
“Captains Nye and Jake Kirk will provide the leadership and experience on both ends of the ice,” said Rockets head coach Rick Kirk. “Nye will anchor the defense while Kirk will center our No. 1 line.
“Figueira will take over this year as the starting goalie,” Coach Kirk added. “We are part of the new Blue West division and look forward to facing off with teams we haven’t played in quite a while. We also look forward to our annual Bay Rocket Tournament starting on Dec. 16.”
The strength of the team is its strong leadership and dedication. A weakness could be the fact that it is a very young squad, including nine freshmen.
“We are looking to improve on our record from last year, win our holiday tournament and bring along our freshman, ensuring successful years to come,” Coach Kirk said.
OLMSTED FALLS had to break in a brand new goaltender last season, ended the season with a huge upset, and finished with a record of 14-16.
The key returning skaters are senior captains Tony Green and Evan Fried, senior forward Ryan Norman, junior captain Ryan Petitti, junior goaltender Jason Ondich and sophomore forward Jake Norman.
“Tony Green, second on the team in scoring last season, will carry the offense,” said Bulldogs head coach Brian Thompson. “Evan Fried will anchor the defense and power play lines and Petitti will be that transition defensman that every team needs.
“We are expecting big things out of the Norman line (Jake and Ryan),” he added.
The newcomers are junior Jeremy Polcar and freshmen Lilly Perkins, Mark Schindler, Brady Wertman and Steven Wilks.
The Bulldogs are looking forward to rekindling the old Blue West rivalry with Bay this season.
Multiple attempts to reach NORTH OLMSTED for this article were unsuccessful.