Cherokee Tyler Zalecki looking to go to next level
The Toledo Junior Cherokee hockey team didn’t officially name its best player this season, but coach Ken Miller has a pretty good idea who it was.
“Tyler Zalecki was our MVP this season,” Miller said of the Northwood senior. “He led our team in scoring and was one of the youngest kids on the team. He really matured as a player this past season.”
Zalecki, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound forward, scored 24 goals with 28 assists in 47 games, leading the Cherokee to a 26-21-1 record and a spot in the Silver Cup playoffs. The Cherokee, who play in the 17-team NA3HL, finished fourth in the East Division and were eliminated by Cleveland in the first round of the postseason.
The Junior Cherokee is for players age 16-20. Another Northwood senior, 6-2, 220-pound defenseman D.J. Bogart, was also on this year’s squad. He and Zalecki played for the Cherokee’s U-16 squad a year ago.
Zalecki said he was happy with his performance after making the jump to the Junior Cherokees.
“I’ve played for them since I was 14 and just kept moving up,” he said. “I was really happy with this year. I’m a young player in this league. I did well in the league. It was much faster, with a lot more hitting. The speed of hockey was just different. I feel like I adapted well. We were a really young team with a lot of rookies. We did good making the playoffs. Everyone liked each other and got along really well.”
Zalecki, 17, said he plans to try out for a spot on a North American Hockey League (NAHL) squad next season.
“If I don’t make it, I’ll probably go back there (to the Junior Cherokee),” he said. “The next level is (considered) Tier II. It’s better competition and (colleges) give you more looks if you’re in that league. I’ve been playing hockey since I was 3, so playing college hockey would be amazing. Getting a good education and playing hockey while you’re doing that, nothing beats that. Whoever wants me, I’ll go play.”
Miller said Zalecki has a good chance to latch on with an NAHL team next season.
“If Tyler doesn’t make it to the next level this summer – which he has a good chance – he has the potential to be one of the leading scorers in the NA3HL next season,” Miller said. “He has a bright future in the game. With the right breaks and opportunities, he could be a good college player some day.”
Bogart, 17, is best known for his exploits on the football field at Northwood. A four-year starter for coach Ken James, Bogart played defensive end and tackle and was named to the All-Toledo Area Athletic Conference first team the past two years. He was a second-team All-Ohio selection on offense as a senior.
Hockey, however, remains his favorite sport. He’s been playing since age 4.
“I like hockey better,” he said, “because of how close the teams are. This team feels like a bunch of brothers, like a close bunch of kids. There are only like 18-20 guys instead of a football team, where there’s like 50.”
This season was also Bogart’s first with the Junior Cherokee after playing on their U-16 team a year ago.
“I’ve played in the Cherokee organization for like the last six years,” Bogart said. “This team came together as a team through all the hard times. We had a lot of good times during the season.”
Because of Northwood’s extended football season last fall, Bogart only played in 43 games for the Cherokee this winter. He had one goal and two assists.
“I took a slap shot from the blue line,” he said of his lone goal. “I was excited. We all celebrated, just like we do with all of our goals. I had good times and bad times, but I tried to focus on what I could to help the team. I tried to play smart defense and do whatever I could to help my team win.”
Miller said Bogart, who plans to attend classes at Owens Community College next fall, is starting to come into his own on the ice.
“David is a big, strong kid who has so much raw potential that he can be a great defenseman at the next level,” the coach said. “I think David would agree he had an up and down season. He wasn’t with the team much the first two months due to playing football. Once he started coming to the rink every day, you could tell with the right coaching and with his work ethic, he will turn into the player our coaching staff believes he can be.”
David Bogart and Tyler Zalecki (at bottom of photos) with Toledo Cherokee teammates.