Clay’s hockey team isn’t going to put fear into many teams this season, not with six freshmen and two sophomores on its 14-man roster.
Fourth-year coach Mike Heck, however, said winning the Northwest Hockey Conference’s White Division title is still a goal for the Eagles.
“To me, I don’t consider it a rebuilding year,’ said Heck, who graduated nine seniors off last year’s 6-23-1 team. “We’re going to compete for the league championship. They are two or three teams out there we’re going to struggle against. Everyone else, I’m confident we can hold our own.
“If we keep practicing through the year and improve and keep playing together as a team, you never know how the league can go. My goal every year is to win the league championship, and it is this year, too.”
Heck said this year’s group of freshmen is making steady improvement.
“We have a whole line of all freshmen,” he said. “They’re going up against kids who are 3-4 years older them. It’s amazing that they are handling themselves very well. They’re getting hit hard and getting right back up. I could not ask for more out of my freshmen.”
Through nine games, the Eagles had a 2-6-1 record with wins over Southview (2-1) and Perrysburg (5-1) and a 6-6 tie with Lake.
Clay competed in a Thanksgiving holiday tournament in Columbus, where it played Gahanna, Cincinnati St. Xavier, and Worthington Kilbourne. Heck said all three of those schools boast solid hockey programs.
“That’s why we go there,” Heck said of the tournament. “We’re trying to play up to someone else’s level, and our kids learned a lot about high school hockey, that it’s a very competitive sport. It’s not easy.”
The Eagles, who took sixth in the White Division last year, return three starters in senior defenseman Anthony Czizek, senior forward Jake Richard and senior goalie Matt Hennessy.
“Czizek is a hard skater,” Heck said. “If he gets an opportunity to skate the puck and he sees an open lane, he’s going to try to take that open lane and take it into the other team’s open zone and try to set up a play.”
Heck called Richard “the animal on the team.”
“He’s small, but he has so much spunk, so much drive,” the coach said. “He’s giving 110 percent every time on that ice. He’s not timid. He’ll go up against any sized kid and put a body check on them. He’s just an all-around great player. If I had 15 of him we’d have a great season, just because of his work ethic.”
Three other returning players are juniors Jake Woodrum, a defenseman, and forwards Andrew Pappas and Dylan Berg.
“They’re going to be seniors next year and key players for us,” Heck said. “They really need to step up and start trying to lead this team in anticipation for next year. They’re strong players, they just need a little more confidence. They are the future leaders of the team, that’s all there is to it.”
Heck insisted that this year’s young squad is holding its own and preparing for the future.
“Everyone is giving it their all and going both ways,” Heck said. “We’re fighters. Those kids are going to play every shift and going to work their hardest, win or lose, until the last second of the game. That’s what we saw in Columbus. Win or lose, they walk off the ice with their heads high and they’re working hard.”