It isn’t easy being a hockey family. Just ask Ronda and Eric Downard.
Their sons, Cameron and Ian, began playing in the Bowling Green Youth Hockey Association when they were 5. Cameron is now 16 and a junior at Eastwood High School, and Ian, 14, is in the eighth grade. Both brothers play for the Northwest Ohio Eagles club hockey team, coached by Brian Contris.
Cameron and Ian both played travel hockey for the Bowling Green Icecats for five years before landing with the Eagles. This is Cameron’s second year on the team, and Ian’s first.
The Eagles are an independent program for players age 14-18.
“We’ve only had one other eighth-grader,” Contris said. “You’d never pick out that Ian is an eighth-grader. He’s just a strong, stocky kid. I’ve seen him get knocked down one time. He’s not scared to get his nose into anything.”
Ian was a running back on his eighth grade football team and scored nine touchdowns last season for the conference champions. Ronda Downard said she didn’t have any reservations about allowing Ian to play against older competition.
“He is pretty well built and can hold his own,” she said. “He would have been fine playing another year in Bowling Green, as a second-year Bantam. He’s a natural athlete in football, baseball … He’s pretty solid and I wasn’t too concerned. Sometimes he looks a little small compared to the others, but he can hold his own.”
This season marks the first time the Downard brothers have played on the same hockey team.
“This year’s been wonderful, having both boys on the same team,” Ronda said. “There were times last year where I would be at a tournament in Cleveland and Eric would be at a tournament in Dayton and we’d have to communicate by text message. This year is so much better for us. The boys also have a 10-year-old sister (Taryn) who travels along with us.”
Cameron and Ian are the only two players from the Eastwood school district who play for the 15-man Northwest Ohio Eagles. The team has players from the Perrysburg, Central Catholic, Bowling Green, Toledo Christian and Liberty-Benton school districts along with players from Bedford, Erie Mason and Whiteford, Mich.
“We get players by word of mouth,” said Contris, in his 13th season. “We don’t recruit, but that would probably help. This (program) was put together 15 years ago when there were a lot more high school hockey players. We usually have kids who were getting cut from BG, Northview, St. John’s, St. Francis and three or four kids from Eastwood – kids who didn’t have a place to play. We’re open to anybody.”
The Eagles, who were 10-5-2 through Jan. 2, play an ambitious independent schedule, which ends in mid-February. They captured the Northview Cold Turkey Thanksgiving Tournament title in the varsity “B” division and played in the Findlay Christmas Tournament on Dec. 26-28.
Last Sunday they traveled to the Ohio State Fairgrounds to play Athens (a 7-2 win) and the Northeast Storm (7-2 loss). They play the Dayton Stealth on Jan. 4 at Bowling Green State University, and on Jan. 5 they take on North Royalton in Fremont.
“We are always committed to a couple tournaments each year,” Contris said. “Our goal is just to win as many games as we can. There is a club state championship, and we have been ranked in the top 10 in the past.”
Through 17 games Cameron, a forward, has 13 goals (third on the team) and seven assists. Ian, a defenseman, has been solid at his position and has one goal and five assists.
“He is a very big, physical eighth-grader,” Contris said. “The boy holds his own. Ian is very smart and makes the right decisions on defense. Cameron is just a hustler. He’s hard skater and a real good position player. He’s always in the right spot.”
Cameron called playing on the same team as his younger brother “different” and said it took a while to get used to.
“I’m not used to playing with him,” Cameron said. “It’s a little bit weird. He can hit people. He’s tough, and he’s a good skater.”
Even though Cameron said he and Ian aren’t that competitive with each other, their mother said it probably helps on the ice that one brother plays offense and the other one plays defense.
“If they were both on the (same) line, there might be more of a competition,” Ronda said. “I don’t see them as being super competitive with each other.”
Ian, who has assisted on two of Cameron’s goals this season, said he’s happy to be on the same team as his brother.
“It’s been kind of cool, and it’s a lot easier on my parents, of course,” Ian said. “I like playing on the same team as Cam. It’s kind of cool to see him score and get to celebrate with him.”