University School has won five Kent District tournaments in a row, but extending that streak to six is going to take quite a bit of work.
Andy Gerow’s Preppers are four games under .500 (12-16-1), and while nobody should be looking past the talented and experienced US squad led by senior captain Jack Borrow, it looks like the door might be open for some new blood to represent the district in Columbus next month.
Gilmour Academy – The Lancers have been #3 in the state coach’s poll pretty much all season. They finished atop the Great Lakes Hockey League regular season standings and followed that up with a Cleveland Cup win – their second in three years.
The Kent District tournament, however, has not been kind to the Lancers. They have just two district titles, the most recent coming in 2011.
Gilmour head coach John Malloy climbed to the top of the wins list for Ohio hockey coaches with his 641st “W” earlier this year at the Cold Turkey tournament in Sylvania (he is now at 662 and counting). Many of those wins over the last few years in the GLHL – can be attributed to a lock-down defense playing in front of a talented goaltender.
Tobias Herlong was the top goaltender in the Great Lakes League this year. He posted a 1.34 goals-against average and .946 save percentage. Both of those league-leading numbers were produced against a challenging schedule full of skilled offensive players and teams.
Herlong split time with Dylan Stefan (1.36/.927). The Lancers could just as easily ride Stefan to a championship as Herlong. Both will likely get playing time in the district tournament.
Herlong stopped 34 shots in the Cleveland Cup championship win over St. Edward. The 35th shot got past him on a re-direction with :36 left to prevent him from recording the shutout.
“We wanted the shutout for him,” Malloy said following the game. “He’s a stellar goaltender because he’s calm. He does not get rattled at all and really helps this team out. We have a lot of emotional guys on the team but he’s nice and calm.”
Justin Evans (27-28-55) was the top scorer in GLHL league games, even out-scoring Holy Name’s prolific Brennan Dickey in league play. His bullet over the blocker of St. Edward goaltender Nate Cappellazzo as he skated down the right wing in Saturday’s Cleveland Cup final was a great demonstration of his scoring ability.
The balanced GA attack also includes power forward Luke Robertson (15-26-41) and shifty Charlie Tuggey (16-17-33), along with 20-goal scorer Frankie Valenti (20-15-35) and Kessel Richards (15-15-30).
The Lancers also boast a team-wide commitment to defense that extends past their stout top four on defense.
“We have six defensemen who have been playing very well,” Malloy said before the Cleveland Cup. “If you have three good defensemen at the high school level it can be more than enough, so we are in a good place, and our forwards have stayed committed to backchecking and helping out. This is a key piece as well. Everything on defense is connected, goalies, defense and forwards.”
Mentor – The 30-2-1 Mentor Cardinals of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League are back-to-back Baron Cup champions, but they will have their detractors based on the schedule they played this year. You cannot, however, look past their body of work this season. They out-scored the opposition 181-48 this season and only lost two games all season – both came against Shaker Heights by a single goal.
It’s not so much the loss side of the ledger that people want to hold against the Cardinals as it is the lack of wins against quality competition. Of Mentor’s 33 games – only three were against GLHL teams. They did beat a few good teams from the Columbus area, including a 2-1 win right after Christmas over a St. Charles team that ended up in the Top 10 in the state (as Shaker did temporarily).
The voters in the state poll were reluctant to move the Cardinals up the rankings early on, but they just kept winning, and eventually settled in the #5 slot for the last month of the season.
Keep in mind Mentor almost knocked Gilmour out last year, taking them to overtime in the semifinal before losing, 2-1. And the Cards look stronger this year. They did eliminate the Lancers in 2018 when GA was coming off their first Cleveland Cup victory. That came in the quarterfinal round.
“Our goals-against average is predicated on good solid team defense, blocking shots and limiting our opponent’s scoring chances and shots on goal,” said head coach Paul McKito. “We average 37.3 shots on goal for and concede 19.3. Almost doubling our opponents every game gives us more opportunities to put pucks in the net and our opponents fewer.”
Mentor has averaged 5.48 goals per game this season with players like Andrew McBride (33-31-64), Kyle Backston (26-20-46), Eric Toth (22-23-45) and Luke Jeffery (14-34-48) leading the charge (stats do not include Baron Cup).
The Cardinals were the beneficiaries of the Lake Catholic program going dark this season as they picked up a couple players, including top-pairing defenseman Amaedeo Cantini (12-35-47). Cameron Mocny (6-29-35) can also contribute to the offense from the blue line.
And, while Gilmour has superior goaltending, Mentor is not without. McKito can rely on Alex Toth (1.79/.923) and Madelyn Adamic (1.00/.932) and he hinted that he would use both keepers in the course of the district tournament.
“Alex and Maddie certainly make saves when called upon and the team is very confident knowing that one of them is in net on any given day,” he said.
Mentor, which has never won a district championship, is likely to encounter Shaker Heights or Walsh Jesuit along the road before they get another shot at Gilmour. Based on their results against Shaker this year, the Cardinals won’t be intimidated against GLHL competition. They did not face Walsh this season, but bested Shaker in one of their three meetings.
“We played them twice at their rink one once at Kent and they were all one goal games with the exception of our 4-2 win,” said McKito. “If you ask our group, they would say they should have won both games at Shaker. The 1-0 loss we outshot them by 12 and hit three posts and a crossbar. In the second game there we had a 3-2 lead and made a couple of mistakes by turning over the puck in bad spots and they capitalized.”
Shaker Heights – Shaker Heights put together an excellent season with scoring depth and two goalies that showed they can backstop the team to victory against top-notch competition. It did not hurt that Matt Bartley turned in a GLHL Coach of the Year performance behind the bench. Bartley’s challenge, starting this week, will be to turn a quick exit from the Cleveland Cup into a positive motivating factor in the district tournament.
“Obviously we can use the early exit as motivation since a lot of things didn't go our way that night,” said Bartley. “Our players have been focused and working hard in practice.”
The Red Raiders were knocked out by Walsh Jesuit, 3-2, in the Cleveland Cup quarterfinals. That was on February 12. A re-match with Walsh would come on February 25 – 13 days later. The team does not open play in the district tournament until February 22 when they play a Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin team that plays in the GCHSHL Blue South Division.
“Long layoffs can be difficult and take you out of your routine,” said Bartley. “But we will take advantage of the extra practice time to improve before our state tournament games begin.”
I can’t imagine many people picked NDCL over Shaker in their Brooklyn District office pool (you guys have one of those too, right?). A re-match with Walsh is a good bet (The Warriors play Kenston Saturday), but Bartley and his charges are not looking past anybody.
“We are first focused on our opening game of the tournament,” he said. “If we get another chance to play them, we need to be ready since they have played well against us this year.”
University School – University School had a sluggish start to their 2018-19 season but picked it up in the second half and went on to win the Kent District and go to Columbus for their fifth straight state tournament appearance. This year the Preppers never really recovered from a similar slow start and have just not been able to get on a roll.
The Preppers managed to win three games in a row just once this season – that coming in January. They head to districts with just two wins in their last nine games and failed to win a game in the Cleveland Cup for the first time.
That being said, allow me to make two observations: 1) You should not look past US despite their record up to this point in the season, and 2) I would not want to be Twinsburg…the Preppers will use the Tigers – a Blue Division team from the GCHSHL – as target practice before moving on to likely second-round opponent Hudson.
The top three scorers for US are juniors, including forward John Pape, who was an all-league selection and leads the team in goals (16) and points (29). Head coach Andy Gerow also has a large contingent of seniors to work with, including four defensemen and both goaltenders.
“Our senior captain Jack Borrow is a guy we not only lean on for his experience on the ice, but for everything he does off the ice,” said Gerow. “He is a tremendous leader and really makes a difference on and off the ice.”
Borrow is just one of the many Preppers who have district and state tournament experience to draw upon.
“We will also lean on seniors like Beau O’Sickey, Will Cha, Charlie Paine and Andrew Rozenstraukh who all have been a part of district runs in the past,” Gerow said. “As well as our juniors John Pape, Nick Flowers and Sam Heller who lead our team in points.”
Ultimately, however, the bracket dictates that the road to the district final goes through their SOM Center rivals from Gilmour.
Holy Name eliminated University School from the Cleveland Cup on February 11. The presumed second-round match-up against Hudson (sorry, Mayfield) would be on February 26.
“This has been our largest layoff of the season so we have kept practices very competitive and done a lot of battle drills in order to keep that high intensity we are used to playing during our games,” Gerow said. “We have also done a lot of different small-area scenarios that we see during different moments of the game so when we get back out there Sunday, we are prepared for those.”
Walsh Jesuit – Walsh Jesuit was probably slated for a “Dark Horse” designation, but they put together a strong finish to the season that included winning four of their last five games and knocking Shaker Heights out of the Cleveland Cup.
“We are feeling a bit confident, but we won’t look past any opponent,” said head coach Peter Calleri. “We will need to focus on our game plan and execute it to the best of our abilities regardless of who we are playing.”
The Warriors don’t have the game-breakers some other teams in the bracket have, but they do have two good sophomore goaltenders that keep them in games: Zach Firment (6-5-0/2.84/.889) and Brody Lerch (7-6-0/3.20/.877).
Keeping the puck out of their own net would be a great start for Walsh, but to go deep in this bracket they will need to produce some goals of their own. Senior Nate Colasanti has been their most productive player this year with 17 goals, but he is the only player on the roster to reach double-digits – although junior Hunter Nalepka (9-8-17) is close.
Sophomores Noah Colasanti (6-9-15) and Aiden Cook (6-9-15) and frosh Joshua Weiner (7-7-14) are going to have to step up if the Warriors are going to go on a run.
Their first district opponent will be the Kenston Bombers of the GCHSHL Red Division.
“At this time of the year, on any given day, any team can win,” Calleri said. “We don’t really care who we play, we just want to play well.”
There is one number Coach Calleri is going to want to circle on the ‘ol white board before the game. The Bombers boast 83-goal scorer Val Carriero.
“Certainly Carriero has to be on the radar as someone to focus on,” Calleri admitted. “We also need to remember there are four other skaters plus a goalie out there with him. We will need to play a complete game to come away with a win.”
Hudson – Much like Walsh, Hudson never really got on much a roll this year, but started to get something going late. They finished the season on an 8-3-0 run that started with a 3-2 win over Shaker Heights on January 12. They also played Rocky River to a one-goal loss in that stretch which, ended with a loss to Mentor in a Baron Cup semifinal.
Hudson is a long shot, but they have been playing their best hockey at the right time of year and cannot be taken lightly. The Explorers play Mayfield on Sunday, but a February 26 quarterfinal match-up with US would appear to be in the offing. The Explorers have never beaten the Preppers (0-6-0 all-time, including four losses in the district playoffs).
Kenston – The Kenston Bombers may be an even longer shot than a “Dark Horse” with a 2-10-0 record in the GCHSHL Red Division and first-round exit in the Baron Cup, but any time a team has the best player on the ice they have a shot to win. This scenario will likely come up a few times even as Kenston faces teams placed much higher in the bracket.
Val Carriero has scored 207 points (and counting…) over the past two seasons. He has scored 83 goals so far in 2019-20. Add in 18 assists and you have a 101-point season. With Carriero on the ice, and Jason Hildebran in net, Kenston always stands a chance of pulling off an upset.
Hildebran was in net for all 12 of Kenston's Red Division games, and while the Bombers only managed two wins, Hildebran posted a stellar .920 save percentage. He faced 574 shots in those 12 games - an average of just under 48 per game.
“Our goalie is one of the best in the state and Val can score a few goals,” Fritsche said. “So, if those two play awesome we have a chance.”
Following a 9-4 win over Canfield in the opening round on Tuesday, Carriero and the Bombers will go up against Walsh in a February 22 second-round game.
--- Scott Harrington for Ohio Hockey Digest
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