The biggest change in the Northwest Hockey Conference this year is that long-time league staple, and six-time Ohio state champion, Bowling Green is taking a year off due to low participation numbers. It will be the first time in 40 years that the Bobcats have not iced a varsity hockey team.
The Bobcats, which had a run of 13 state tournament appearances in 14 years from 1991-2004, expect to return to the ice soon – potentially in 2019-20.
In the meantime, the show must go on…
NHC Red Division Preview
Without BG, the NHC Red Division will be a tight four-team grouping that could end up being the most competitive division in the state from top to bottom.
Any discussion of high school hockey in the Toledo area has to start with the St. Francis Knights. State champions in 2011 and 2015, the Knights have been to the last four state tournaments and made it to the final the last two years. They have been eliminated by Saint Ignatius in Columbus three years running – including last year’s double-OT state title game.
The best three-year run in St. Francis history has just happened to coincide with a three-year run by Saint Ignatius that was just that much better. As you can imagine, that has led to a pretty heated rivalry.
The Knights and Ignatius have tested the waters against each other in the Padua Holiday Tournament the last few years, but Ignatius will not be at the event this year, meaning the Knights will have to hope they get a shot at redemption at the state tournament.
St. Francis has a half-dozen seniors (in a tidy 3F/2D/1G configuration) and returns both goaltenders in senior Jacob Coward and junior Thomas Barrow. Two experienced goalies that have played in big games the last few years is a huge plus for head coach Chris Varga’s team.
In addition to the seniors, two younger players return after clutch performances as underclassmen. Then-freshman Brody Pavlica scored in the 3-1 state semifinal win over University School and Hunter McKie lit the lamp in the state championship game as a sophomore.
St. John’s Jesuit will have a new voice behind the bench – and an experienced one at that. Matt Bollinger is set to begin his first year as the head coach of the Titans. His coaching resume includes stops in the professional, college and junior hockey levels.
For three years (2014-2017), Bollinger was an assistant coach with the Toledo Walleye. During that time, the team went 148-52-9-7 in the regular season and went on two deep playoffs runs.
Prior to joining the Walleye, Bollinger was the head coach for the University of Toledo’s ACHA (club) team for three seasons. His teams won almost 75% of their games (78-27-2) and qualified for nationals in back-to-back seasons.
Bollinger will also be surrounded by a great staff. Scott Paluch played on BGSU’s national championship team in 1984 and was head coach of the Falcons from 2002-2009.
The Bowling Green State ties don’t stop there, either. Former Falcon netminder Jimmy Spratt is the St. John’s goalie coach. Spratt played four years at BGSU, then embarked on a four-year professional career that saw him play in the CHL, ECHL and AHL.
The Titans reached the Sylvania District Final in 2018 following a 1-0 win over Northview in the semifinals. They had to settle for being the district the runner-up to St. Francis, but will be gunning for a return to the state tournament for the first time since 2009.
St. John’s has some impressive early-season wins over competitive teams from the CHC (7-2 over St. Charles) and GLHL (3-1 over Walsh Jesuit and 7-5 over University School).
Steve Elliott embarks on his third season as the head coach at Sylvania Northview. His job is to return the Wildcats to the glory of their not-so-distant past.
The Wildcats claimed a state championship as recently as 2014, when a memorable 1-1 tie after seven overtimes resulted in a co-championship with Saint Ignatius.
Northview claimed the state title in a more conventional manner back in 2012, toppling 11-time state champ St. Edward, 5-2.
Elliott was an assistant for 19 years prior to taking the head coaching job. He had the opportunity to learn a lot working under Jim Cooper (585 career wins) and Mike Jones (two state titles in eight years).
The Wildcats started this season by playing a challenging slate of games at the Cold Turkey Shootout – a good primer for NHC league play that begins this week with games against both St. Francis and St. John’s.
Although results have been mixed in the early going, Northview has a good core of experienced players to build around. Senior forward Jake Ruehle and senior defensemen Trevor Klee and Noah Kerchevall have all gained All-NHC Recognition in their careers. Another senior, Teddy Bugert, led the team in points (4-5-9) through the first half-dozen games with Ruehle adding six goals.
The Wildcats may be experienced, with nine seniors in all, but they are young between the pipes where sophomore Trevor Clem has carried the load in the early going, playing every game and holding his own with a 2.43 goals-against average and .888 save percentage.
Northview will also play in the Padua Holiday, Walsh Christmas and Meadville (PA) MLK Tournaments and will face top-notch non-league competition at all three events.
Although they finished fourth in the division, with their only league wins coming over BG, the Findlay Trojans put together a very competitive campaign last season with one-goal losses to both Northview and St. John’s in league play.
Unfortunately, Findlay had the misfortune to draw St. Francis in the Sylvania District Semifinal where they bowed out, 5-0. Things may be beginning to turn, however, as the Trojans defeated the Knights decisively, 6-2, at the Cold Turkey Shootout last weekend.
The Trojans have participated in the Padua Franciscan Holiday Hockey Tournament for years, but rarely place in the top four. This pre-Christmas test is the top in-season tournament in the state and will serve as a barometer to let this year’s Findlay team know if the win over St. Francis was just a case of catching an elite team off guard early in the season, or if the Trojans have what it takes to make a run this year.
NHC White Division
Anthony Wayne won the White Division with an 11-1-0 mark in league play a year ago, and won the league tournament with a 2-1 double-overtime victory over Southview in the championship game.
The Generals went to the Chiller Thanksgiving Classic in Dublin over the long weekend. They didn’t face as well as they would have liked, but playing at a competitive pace with some top flight teams from the CHC and GLHL should do well to prepare them for their title defense.
The Perrysburg Yellow Jackets have been making waves early this season, they won their first four games and will test themselves against Anthony Wayne on Friday.
Oregon Clay wore out the red light at the Kettering Ice Arena during the Frozen Creek Tournament and has scored 36 goals over its last five games. The Eagles hope to carry that momentum into their White Division Opener Friday against Sylvania Southview.
Southview was competitive in the White Division last year, beating Perrysburg four times and splitting a pair of one-goal games against Anthony Wayne, including the 2OT loss in the tournament.
Whitmer and Maumee finished at the bottom of the division standings last year and will attempt to move up into the thick of the division race this season.
NHC Blue Division
The Blue Division of the NHC continues to be a three-team grouping of Fremont, Lake and Springfield. These three programs will continue the work of developing a varsity program by playing playing an aggressive slate of games against White Division competition.
The Freemont Little Giants kicked off league play with a 3-0 win over the Springfield Blue Devils while the Lake Flyers hit the ice December 7 when they go up against Anthony Wayne.
--- Scott Harrington for Ohio Hockey Digest