It’s no secret that life is full of challenges, and no one knows this better than the Clay Eagles hockey team. But seeing how the Eagles work through those challenges is what makes them truly inspirational.
Mike Heck, Clay coach, has had to deal with a lot in his short tenure with the Eagles hockey team. He has seen the team struggle through tough times on the ice on off it. From a debilitating injury to a player, to the death of a player, Heck and his Eagles have worked together to support one another.
“The initial response to those two tragedies was an immediate sense of family,” Heck said. “It brought the players and coaches together with a special bond that most teams don’t possess.”
|Clay co-captains Dylan Berg, Andrew Pappas and Jake Woodrum. The Eagles
play home games at the Ice House on Alexis Road. (Press photo by J. Patrick
The Clay hockey team has built on that bond, and has journeyed into the 2013-2014 season with the same goal as always: play as a team.
“Our goal for this season is to become a solidified unit, to start trusting one another on the ice and start playing like a team instead of 17 individuals,” Heck said. “We are getting off to a slow start, we have a lot of talent individually but are lacking in team play.”
After their first seven games, the Eagles are 2-4-1 with wins over neighboring Lake in the season’s first game, and another win came over Cincinnati Elder after playing in a tournament over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in Columbus.
The team is led by a trio of returning senior captains — Andrew Pappas, Jake Woodrum and Derek Berg. All three have been instrumental in making sure the Eagles started the season strong, starting in the preseason which began at the beginning of November.
“They have been doing a nice job of leading the team by organizing pre-season off-ice conditioning, running our captain’s skates, and in general, being a positive influence on and off the ice,” Heck said.
Another group Heck has been looking to are a group of seven sophomores. The coaches have big expectations for them to improve upon an 11-22-1 record from a year ago. Six of the seven are beginning their second year within the program, and the Eagles are counting on them to help achieve the goal of winning a White Division title in the Northwest Hockey Conference.
“They are the backbone of our program,” he said, “I can honestly say that about them. They need to continue to get better and improve as a team for the next two years.”
Improving is no easy task though. The team gets little ice time during the week to practice. The lack of practice time has hamstrung the program when it comes to marked improvement over the last several years. The Eagles practice just two days of the week, typically on Monday and Tuesday. That often leaves two or three days in between Clay’s last practice and their next game. With so little ice time, it’s hard enough for Clay to compete in their own division, but it is often made more difficult when the Eagles have to face local hockey powerhouses like St. Francis DeSales, St. John’s Jesuit and Sylvania Northview during the tournament.
“We are burdened with the fact that we only get on the ice to practice for 2½ hours per week, therefore with the majority of our players only having one year of high school experience and the lack of practice ice, it makes it almost impossible to compete against teams of a caliber such as the teams in the Red division,” Heck said.
In addition to focusing on continued improvement, the Eagles have also found ways to give back in memory of Cody Van Hersett, and in honor of Kyle Cannon. The team has been hosting free hockey clinics in memory of Van Hersett, who was killed in an auto accident almost two years ago. The team has organized and hosted a holiday hockey tournament which benefitted Cannon, who was paralyzed during a game back in 2008.
Despite the early mixed results and all the obstacles in the Eagles way though, Heck and the Clay hockey program are still trying to achieve the goal of becoming one cohesive unit, but with the season already underway, the time to gel is now.
“Once we start playing like a team, I am sure that we will be a leading contender to win our division, but the season is under way so it has to happen soon,” Heck said.