If Lake's club hockey team is to end its conference championship drought, it will definitely be a team effort.
Third-year coach Craig Horvath returns nine players from last year's team, which finished 7-4-2 overall and 5-4-1 in the Blue Division of the Northwest Hockey Conference. The Flyers are 6-0-1 this season, which includes exhibitions.
"I thought we'd do real well this year," Horvath said. "They're doing better than I thought. This year, anybody can score a goal or get an assist or make a play. Last year, it was two or three guys I could count on. This year, it can be any one of nine guys.
"We don't have a lot of guys, but somebody steps up and carries the load every night. It's a total team effort. I can't stress team enough."
Lake last won a Blue Division title in 2005.
The nine returning players from a year ago are senior forwards Derek Oblinger and Gabe Pinciotti, senior defensemen Brandon Maze and Louie Szilagi, junior forwards Ricky Cox and Duncan Vail, junior goalie Tony Horvath, junior defenseman R.J. Schultz and sophomore forward Mitch Mauder.
Horvath was a first-team all-league pick last season and Vail was a second-team selection. Sophomore forward Jake Banden will also see action this season.
The Flyers opened the season with a 4-0 exhibition win over Clay before beating Ottawa Hills 6-1 in a Nov. 22 exhibition at Lucas County Arena. Vail had a hat trick — the first ever by any hockey player at the new downtown arena.
Lake followed up with the B Division title at the Cold Turkey Thanksgiving Holiday Tournament at Tam-O-Shanter. The Flyers went 3-0-1 in the B Division, which included Ottawa Hills, Springfield and Start.
Lake tied Springfield 3-3 and then beat Start (9-3) and Ottawa Hills (6-1) before winning the rematch against Springfield, 5-3, in the championship game.
"It was unbelievable," Horvath said of winning the tournament. "Kids who have never scored are stepping up and playing and growing into their position. It's nothing that I'm doing. We just have nine kids who are pretty good and are getting better.
"The kids I never thought would be aggressive carried the puck and were stronger and did stuff I've never taught them, like dive down for a puck. They're diving at shots and doing whatever it takes to get the job done. They're just really coming along and growing up."
In their Dec. 5 conference opener against Springfield, Cox, Szilagi, Schultz and Pinciotti all scored goals for the Flyers in a 4-2 win over Springfield.
Horvath said if Lake stays healthy, it can "absolutely" challenge for a Blue Division title this season. Fremont Ross and Anthony Wayne have tied for the title the last two years.
"If we stay healthy and keep doing what we're doing, I see no problem if they stay focused," the coach said. "If they keep the team theme going, we'll be all right."
Lake faces Ottawa Hills on Friday and Start on Saturday at Tam-O-Shanter.