Eastwood's U-18 midget club hockey team is in a unique situation.
The Eagles, under fourth-year coach Brian Contris, are an independent team that draws players from 11 different high schools as well as Bowling Green State University and the University of Toledo.
The program started in 2002, according to one of the Eastwood team managers, Loren LaVoy.
"We were trying to get a varsity team for Eastwood High School and it just never panned out," LaVoy said.
We could never get enough kids to participate to justify a varsity sport. Basically, we made it a club team for Northwest Ohio kids who don't have a team to play for. We have a kid from almost every school in the Suburban Lakes League."
The Eagles, who play their home games at the University of Findlay, have players from Eastwood, Lake, Woodmore, Rossford, Genoa, Otsego, Cardinal Stritch, Napoleon, Oak Harbor, Elmwood and Bowling Green high schools. Aaron Kinney, a freshman at BGSU, is also a member of the squad along with Clay graduate Shane Luce, a freshman at UT.
Last year, Eastwood went 20-8-5 against competition that included games against teams from the Northwest Hockey Conference's White and Blue divisions. The Eagles also played junior varsity teams from the Red Division.
Contris admitted it takes a lot of time to mold players from different schools into one cohesive unit.
"Fortunately, we have a very good group of kids," he said. "We have very good athletes but we're still learning about each other. We only get about an hour and a half of practice a week. We're doing some training stuff on the side such as stretching, working on the upper body, jogging. One of the parents is a certified fitness trainer with the Army and he's doing that for us. We're trying to get them in shape.
"We have a lot of kids who played football and some kids who are not in hockey shape. With only an hour and half of practice a week, it's taken us some time."
Heading into a Saturday doubleheader against Findlay, the Eagles had a 1-2-1 record. They beat Findlay's JV team 7-5, lost twice to the Fort Wayne River Rats and tied Whitmer 3-3.
Eastwood normally only takes players from their freshman year through age 18. Last year, the Eagles had a goalie who was in the eighth grade.
"We've got pretty good skaters," Contris said. "A lot of them, probably 50 percent, have played some sort of travel hockey. We've got a good group of kids. This is probably by far the most experienced team I've had in the last four years."
Eastwood's top players include junior forward and team captain Jimmy Grandowicz from Rossford, Kinney, a forward and team captain, and senior forward Jay Herman from Genoa.
The Eagles have "two great goalies" in junior Justin Bockbrader from Eastwood and freshman Andrew Gedert from Woodmore.
"Justin played a lot of travel," Contris said. "He could be a very solid goalie. I just have to get him to stop playing those other sports. Last year he juggled basketball - he played football for some time - but we got him to quit playing basketball this year. Andrew would play hockey every day of the week, all day, if he could. He's going to be a good goalie. I think he's going to be one of the best goalies around in the next few years."
Contris is also looking for solid play from senior defenseman Joe Bella from Lake, Luce, a defenseman who is new to the program, sophomore defenseman Davyd Perry from Oak Harbor, junior defenseman Jamie Kummerer from Otsego, sophomore forward Tim Langlois from Cardinal Stritch, and Justin Moor, a freshman forward from Stritch.
Contris is assisted by coaches Justin Crawford and Beau Bortel from Bowling Green and Dan Dewyre from Eastwood.
"Once these guys get to molding with each other this year, I think we'll be a .500 to a .600 team," Contris said. "They can be as good as they want to be. The challenge is getting these kids from different schools to mold together. We're still juggling our lines around. I plan on having a winning season. They've come a long way."