Adam Baum, email@example.com
Ice, maybe the most unforgiving and unrelenting surface for sports competition, always reveals the truth. It leaves nothing to interpretation.
For local high school hockey teams, the ice brings with it a winter war where each side is clad in custom sweaters, feet fashioned with freshly-sharpened skates, and sticks spun with tape down to the smallest detail.
The season kicked off a few weeks ago and there are seven area teams in action this season. Here’s a look at the local ice brigade.
MIGHTY MOE: Moeller, the only local team to play out of the Capital Hockey Conference in Columbus, is off to a scorching start at 8-3 overall.
Longtime coach Mike Reeder told The Enquirer that after going 10-20-3 last season, he’s got a much better team this time around with new people in new positions.
“We’re definitely a better team,” said Reeder.
“So far, we have played pretty hard and we have stayed out of the penalty box. (We) seem to be a faster team with some new players in key positions.”
Reeder added that his Crusaders have done a good job of spreading the scoring opportunities around, something he hopes they can continue to do.
Senior forward Connor Bayer and juniors Jordan Walter, Drew Totin, Kyle Moore and Jarred Gorcyznski will lead the Crusader charge this season.
Moeller's home ice is Northland Ice Center. To see the Crusaders in action, they're at home against Springboro (Dec. 29), Talawanda (Jan. 5), Centerville (Jan. 7), and Dublin Coffman (Jan. 20).
SEEING RED: The defending champion in the Southwest Ohio High School Hockey League Red Division, St. Xavier looks like it could be very much in that conversation again this season.
Not only does St. Xavier have talent returning from last year – 10 starters – but the Bombers have welcomed in quite a bit of new firepower. It's that fresh blood and senior leadership that coach Kevin Taylor likes most his team.
Back as starters are Jack Langenderfer, Noah Reidy, Bailey Hammons, Tyler Dellerman, Nick Kaneps, Neil Keyser, Daniel Luongo, Kyle Archdeacon, Aiden Krueger, and John Driscoll.
Langenderfer, a senior forward, is the Bombers' captain and is doing so after suffering a season-ending knee injury last year.
Reidy, a sophomore forward, was second in points last season with 19 goals and seven assists, and Hammons, a sophomore goalie, led the league in shutouts (3) and goals-against average (1.33) last year.
Dellerman, a senior defenseman who can score, and Kaneps, a senior who was named assistant captain, will provide leadership and stability throughout all three chunks of the ice.
After a big win over Moeller, 4-1, on Dec. 14, St. Xavier has started the season 5-4-1 and the Bombers have a big holiday tournament at Northland Ice Center Dec. 26-28, as well as matches at home against Alter (Jan. 7), Troy (Jan. 21) and Talawanda (Jan. 27).
The Bombers' biggest rival in the red division is Elder, a team coming off the best season in program history. Even with several key losses to graduation, Elder still managed to already do something this season it's never done before in program history: beat St. Xavier; and the Panthers did so convincingly, 9-2 on Dec. 10.
After a 26-9-1 season last year, Elder's off to a 6-3 start this season. The Panthers return Matt Mahon, Matt Larkin, Austin Gilkey, Josh Nieman, Charlie Garnett and Jacob Henn as starters.
Garnett, who became the school's all-time leading goal scorer on Dec. 1, and Mahon, a four-year starter, are both senior co-captains this year. Larkin, a junior, who's older brother Ron just graduated after being named The Enquirer hockey player of the year each of the last two seasons, is an assistant captain, and Henn, a senior, is one of the more-experienced netminders in the area. Junior defenseman Jacob Hofmeyer brings a physical presence for the Panthers.
GOING FOR GOLD: With Elder and St. Xavier in the red division along with Alter, Centerville and Troy, that leaves Beavercreek, Mason, Sycamore, Talawanda and La Salle in the Southwest Ohio High School Hockey League Gold Division.
Talawanda hit a rough patch last season but the Braves look back in business after only losing four players from last season's team, said coach Jared Sacre.
Talawanda started off strong in league play with a 3-0-1 record, a start that Sacre attributed to that experience.
"The skill level and actually knowing how to run the plays that we've designed year after year ... it really didn't take too long to find the right group to mesh together," he said.
Senior Matt Deaton is Talawanda's captain, and senior Josh Huddleston and junior Josh Shrader, the Braves' leading scorer last year, are assistant captains. Junior Trey Hubbard was the second-leading scorer last season and he's also back.
Sacre said they added some new names too, so expect Talawanda to have a much better season.
It's now the second season that Mason has skated as an official OHSAA team, and the inaugural season landed the Comets in third place in the gold division, a result coach Seth Knudsen is hoping to improve upon this season.
The Comets have four captains: junior Brogan Kallymer, who leads the team in goals, assists and points after moving from forward to defense this season; senior Zach Stegman, last season's leading scorer who recently suffered a preseason injury and hopes, Knudsen said, to return in January; junior Seth Spears, who earned the "C" on his sweater in just three years of playing; senior Nick Osterwisch, an experienced scorer who Knudsen said is his team's top skater.
Senior forward Matt Slusser is another crucial part of what the Comets do. Slusser converted from defense to forward last season and he's a big-time penalty killer.
Knudsen said it's been exciting to see how quickly the team has developed.
"As a young second-year program, we are an incredibly young team," he said. "Thirteen of our 21 rostered players had not played meaningful ice time at the high school level before this year and they've been working extremely hard to get up to speed."
Coming off a four-win season, there's no doubting the motivation for success at Sycamore, and coach Bob Johnson said his squad is team-focused and anxious to round up a winning season.
The Aviators have six starters back in senior Liam Wells, sophomore Marc Filippelli, junior Johnny Ciotola, senior Andrew Turner, junior Nick Kerry and Scott Alisson.
Sycamore also added two new freshmen goaltenders in Mary Kahn and Owen Henry. Johnson said they'll be battling it out for that starting spot.
La Salle took last season off on the ice but the Lancers are back this season as a club team, still competing in the gold division.
Murray Holland takes the helm as the Lancers' coach. Originally from Canada, Holland's had coaching experience in high school and college in Canada, and he's also been the head coach of the Cincinnati Swords for six seasons.
Holland said he only has two players who were previously a part of La Salle's hockey program before the hiatus, and they are juniors Nathan Scharf and Fin Vieh.
The rest of the Lancers are freshmen, said Holland. Keep an eye on freshmen Marshall Merk and Eric Holland, as both enter with quite a bit of playing experience.
Because La Salle only had about nine players, Holland said the decision to register as a club team was strictly a numbers decision. So La Salle put out an invitation to other area schools looking for players. This season, the Lancers have players from Badin, Purcell Marian, Fenwick, Cincinnati Christian and St. Henry (Ky.).
It will be a rebuilding season for La Salle as many of them try to find their fit on ice for the first time.