Teams in the Northwest Hockey Conference White Division won't face the same Clay team they played last season.
The Eagles, who were caught short-handed when five players decided to play travel hockey last season for the Toledo Cherokees, are coming off a season in which they finished with just five wins including a 2-7-1 mark in the White Division.
Clay beat division rival Central twice and lost to Whitmer, Bedford, Perrysburg and Maumee. But that wasn't the same talented squad that dropped just two league games in 2006-07.
Sparked by the return of senior center/forward Jerry Murray and three others who played travel hockey last season, fourth-year coach Frank Butler has high expectations this year.
"Jerry Murray was the player of the year as a sophomore and first-team All-City, and getting him back has an impact from the get-go," Butler said. "He skated with the Junior A team last year and decided it wasn't for him, so he's back in high school for his senior year."
Also returning are junior forwards J.T. Hennessy and Patrick Perlaky, senior defenseman David Shaheen and senior forward Mike Wojciechowski.
"Hennessy's work ethic is impeccable," Butler said. "He plays relentlessly. Size-wise, he's not the biggest kid but he is relentless. He's like the Energizer bunny out there.
"Perlaky could undress you in a phone booth. He's got great hands, and his stick handling and his skating - he's a nice player to watch. He makes a lot of guys look foolish. Shaheen is a solid defenseman, physical. He probably has one of the best slap shots in the league in all of the divisions, Red, White and Blue."
Butler also said he looks for good production from Wojciechowski, the Eagles' leading scorer a year ago.
"He was our go-to guy last year," the coach said. "He's just a good physical, positional player with good size. He plays both ends of the ice real well."
Clay also returns all but one of the eight sophomores who started as freshmen last season.
"Our goal-tending is going to be phenomenal," Butler said. "We have a sophomore goaltender, Josh Utter, and a senior in E.J. LeMay. "LeMay has dropped 50 pounds in the off season from conditioning. He is 10 times quicker than last year."
Butler hired a new goalie coach, Tony Corsini, to work with Utter and LeMay, and hired another assistant coach in Colin Perlaky, who will work with the team's forwards.
"We look for big things from freshman Chad Hudson," Butler said. "He's a solid defenseman and he's going to be a blue-chipper in the next year or two. He's a decent-sized kid and a stay-at-home defenseman.
Our defense is going to be our strongpoint with (junior) Eric McGill and a dynamite sophomore, Devin Eckman, who is probably the best defenseman in the league along with Shaheen."
The Eagles, who play their home games at the Toledo Ice House, kick off their season Nov. 28-30 at the Beavercreek Tournament.
"We're looking forward to starting the year," Butler said. "We scrimmaged Anthony Wayne and had a good scrimmage, and we had a good scrimmage against Parma Holy Name. We're excited about getting the year started. We have a lot of offense and firepower. We have to buy into playing defensive hockey and take care of our end first, and good things will happen.
"We're going to score goals; our biggest thing is playing our defensive style so we don't have to exchange punches with people. We have to play defensive hockey in order to have success."