The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

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The Clay hockey team did not make it to the state championship game this

pic-keithsokoloski

season, but an Oregon resident played his role in Ohio’s big showdown at Nationwide Arena.

Keith Sokoloski was rewarded by the Ohio High School Athletic Association for his 10 years of consecutive service officiating hockey games by reaching the pinnacle in his sport — officiating his first state championship game in the 18,000 seat home of the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets.

“That was amazing. That was my Olympics, my Gold Medal game, my Stanley Cup. I can’t go any higher than that,” Sokoloski said.

Cleveland St. Ignatius captured its second championship by defeating Sylvania Northview, 4-1. Northview, making its fourth state final appearance, ended the season at 21-9-3 with the program’s fourth state runner-up finish.

Bowling Green leads the state with 19 state hockey tournament appearances and St. John‘s Jesuit is third with 14. BG has six state titles (1999, 98, 97, 91, 84, 80).

Sokoloski believes Northwest Ohio continues to provide the cream of the crop in high school hockey, even though the number of schools with hockey in Northeast Ohio has doubled in recent decades to about 54.

Sokoloski saw it when then-top ranked St. Francis won Northview’s Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot-Out against Lakewood St. Edward, DeMatha Catholic (Md.), and Northview at Sylvania’s Tam-O-Shanter. He’s seen it at other tournaments, too.

“A lot of times during the middle of the season, a lot of the Cleveland teams come in. Like University School comes in and St. John’s has a nice tournament on Martin Luther King weekend,” Sokoloski said. “A lot of these teams come over for that.

“It’s excellent hockey, and it’s usually low scoring like 2-1 and they are very competitive games. Even during the preseason games, and I do a lot of those, too, Toledo teams match up well with them in the upper divisions — you know, the St. Francises, and the St. Johns, and the Northviews, they match up fine with the Cleveland teams.”

Still, St. Ignatius outshot Northview 32 to 17 in the state final. Northview had a field day during its 4-0 semi-final victory over Dublin Coffman.

“Unfortunately, I think Northview just ran out of gas, you know,” Sokoloski said.

Sokoloski, the cousin of former National Hockey League player Brian Smolinski, began playing the game at age eight. Smolinski, a Genoa native and Cardinal Stritch grad who played with the Flint Generals in the International League this season, is not Sokoloski’s only relative involved in the sport.

“I grew up with the sport. Our whole family was involved — my brothers, my cousins,” Sokoloski said.

Growing up in West Toledo, playing three years for Start, and two years of junior hockey was not enough for him.

“I wanted to stay in the sport,” Sokoloski said. “My son, he was playing and I was coaching him and helping him out, but I didn’t want to play in the, quote, beer league or the old man’s league. I had no aspirations of doing that. It was just that the way to give back to the sport was as an official.”

Sokoloski has seen prep hockey develop into a higher form, attracting larger crowds and more media attention all the time.

Sokoloski also officiated the sold out District final game at Tam-O-Shanter between Northview and Findlay, won easily by Northview, 7-1. Some tournament officials say up to 2,000 tickets may have been turned away for that game, and it would have been even more had St. Francis or St. John’s reached that game.

To reach the District final, Northview defeated Sokoloski’s alma mater, Start, 10-0, then BG 5-2, and St. John’s 4-3. BG had defeated Clay, 9-2, in the sectional opener to end the Eagle’s season.

A lot of the players Sokoloski sees in games he officiates he knows from Bantam leagues, and not just as a referee. He loves watching them develop.

“I think it’s great. You know, I’ve coached a lot of these kids and just watching them grow up and then all of a sudden they are in high school,” Sokoloski said. “You can see the development of these players and the league is really growing. That’s great.”

The athletes are getting better at the game, too, Sokoloski says.

“The kids are bigger and they are stronger and they are faster. With the technology of the game, with the sticks and that, they fire that puck faster. It’s definitely a lot faster,” Sokoloski said.

In addition, he is seeing more and more players leave travel teams to compete for their high school teams — something the upper tier of players never did a decade ago. But there is more than one reason for that.

“I think it’s a combination of the economy and the kids wanting to play for their high school. I know St. Francis had a couple kids that wanted to play for their high school, but I also think the economy is playing a role in that, too. It is awfully expensive to play,” Sokoloski said.

“I also hear kids are getting burned out and they want to play for their high school. They don’t want to play 60, 70 games in a season. They’d rather play their final two years or their one year with their high school.”

Sokoloski also officiates collegiate club hockey in the American Club Hockey Association — normally at Bowling Green State University or the University of Toledo. Opponents often include schools like Ohio State, Iowa, and John Carroll.

“It’s pretty good hockey. They bring in some good teams. Ohio State has an excellent club team,” Sokoloski said.

Giving money to people along road

Do you feel compelled to give money to people holding signs along the road asking for money?
1194187843 [{"id":"10","title":"No, I'm not sure they're legitimate.","votes":"23","pct":62.16,"type":"x","order":"1","resources":[]},{"id":"11","title":"No, I'm afraid they will use it for drugs.","votes":"9","pct":24.32,"type":"x","order":"2","resources":[]},{"id":"12","title":"Yes, I feel good about helping someone down on their luck.","votes":"4","pct":10.81,"type":"x","order":"3","resources":[]},{"id":"13","title":"Yes, we could all end up like that.","votes":"1","pct":2.7,"type":"x","order":"4","resources":[]}] ["#194e84","#3b6b9c","#1f242a","#37414a","#60bb22","#f2babb"] sbar 160 160 /communitypolls/vote/1-root.html?Itemid=251&id=5 No answer selected. Please try again. Thank you for your vote. Answers Votes ...