Central Catholic sophomore Andrew Solis formed a tight bond with his father, primarily through athletics.
That connection has been precariously interrupted, but it is abundantly clear that the son is thriving from the relationship.
Solis is the only child of Robert and Brooke Solis of Point Place. Andrew and his mother were separated from Robert for the first time in their lives when the family patriarch, who serves in the Ohio National Guard, was called to active duty in Kosovo in June.
Despite having to deal with the uncertainty and absence of his mentor and best friend, Andrew has excelled for the Irish hockey team.
The center leads the Irish in goals scored (17), assists (15) and points (32). His team is 7-10-2 overall and is in second place in the Northwest Hockey Conference White Division with a 4-3 record.
He is an exceptional player and person, said Central coach Todd Switala. I can t imagine how tough it is on a kid who is trying to play a sport while his dad is overseas.
Brooke Solis said her husband and son have always been inseparable, especially when it comes to sports.
He s been coaching Andrew since he was in kindergarten, Brooke said. He has devoted his life to Andrew. I asked him one time who his best friend was and he said it was Andrew.
Andrew Solis said his dad went to all of his games, and he misses his father s face in the crowd.
It s been hard, Solis said. He s always been there to help me out.
Every sport I did, he would read library books and manuals and tell me what they said and how to improve. He d have me do programs to get in shape and get faster.
Aside from fostering his son s athletic endeavors, Robert Solis has been a Toledo firefighter for 12 years and has served in the National Guard for more than 20 years.
Brooke said her husband s unit, which is based in Bowling Green, was sent on a peacekeeping mission to Kosovo in June.
We talked about what could happen, Brooke said. I m just very grateful that he is not [in Iraq] right now. It s a bit more tame where he is.
Kosovo, a province of Serbia in eastern Europe, was torn by ethnic conflict in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Kosovo was part of the country of Yugoslavia, which has since changed its name to Serbia and Montenegro.
Rebel groups in Kosovo tried to seek independence in 1997, and the United Nations eventually intervened. The U.N. and United States continue to have peacekeepers in Kosovo, but tensions occasionally erupt into violence.
Solis said his dad is reluctant to talk about specifics of his service, but he said his father s duties include working vehicle check points, where he searches for weapons and drugs. He said his dad also goes on house searches looking for illegal items. His father is stationed on the Serbian border.
They visit villages and ask questions, Solis said. They go on manhunts. They stop cars and check local areas.
He carries a gun with him all the time, but he has never had to fire it. There have been a couple things that have happened, but he hasn t been in real danger at least that is what he tells us.
Solis said he talks with his dad once a week and they correspond by e-mail and regular mail.
We talk about school and hockey and how things are going at home, Solis said.
He always wants to know what is going on with Andrew first, Brooke said.
Switala said Robert Solis also keeps track of his son s progress on the team s Web site, cchshockey.org.
His dad e-mailed me thanking me for the Web site, Switala said. Robert is grateful for that website. It s a life-saver for him, Brooke said. The biggest bummer for him is not being able to watch Robert.
And Switala said Solis is something to see on the ice.
He is a difference-maker on my team, Switala said. He has the entire package. He has good hands, good speed and good hockey sense. It makes me excited that he is only a sophomore.
Switala, who is in his second year at the helm of the Irish program after eight years as an assistant at St. John s, said Solis is perhaps the best prep player he has seen in his 30 years in hockey.
From a high school standpoint, he has the whole package, Switala said. He has size and he can hit. He is one of the best players I ve ever had the opportunity to coach.
Switala compared Solis style to that of Brendan Shanahan of the Detroit Red Wings. He said that Solis is about 6-0, 180 pounds and is a big presence on the ice.
He is a bigger guy that can play the puck, Switala said. He also can make defensemen look silly.
He is a tough kid. He has a lot on his mind and he is still stepping up. I can only imagine how rough it is trying to play hockey while your mind is elsewhere.
While Solis is in his first year at Central after transferring from St. Francis, he has become a team leader.
I ve always been used to being one of the best players on the team, he said. I m just used to being a leader.
That attribute can also be tracked directly back to his father. Robert, 37, who is a staff sergeant, has taken a leadership role with his unit in Kosovo.
Most of the guys are really young and he helps guide them, Brooke said.
Central has only a few upperclassmen, and seven sophomores and seven freshmen.
We have three senior captains so we can t put the C on Andrew, but we really count on him, Switala said. He excels in every aspect of the game. He s our best penalty killer and is on our first unit on the power play. He logs a tremendous amount of ice time.
Solis scored four goals against Anthony Wayne last Friday. He also had two goals in two recent games against Perrysburg. The forward said scoring came naturally to him when he first played roller hockey when he was 9.
I just tried it and liked it so I kept playing, he said.
He quickly picked up the sport and began playing for elite travel teams. He played for the Junior Storm and most recently for the IceDiggers.
I like scoring goals, but I also like getting the puck and creating plays.
Solis did not play for St. Francis as a freshman, but continued to play travel hockey until he gave it up this year.
Playing travel hockey is a lot of work and you don t have time to do other things like hanging out with friends, Solis said.
Solis, who also is a catcher, pitcher and third baseman in baseball, said his father was instrumental in his development in both sports.
He helps me with all of my sports. He tells me how to improve my game.
Robert Solis is slated to return to Toledo in March. He will stay for about a week and then report back for duty.
I m just real proud of him, his son said.
Brooke said Andrew is very confident and knows his dad is doing what he needs to do.
I just tell Andrew that his dad is always with him, Brooke said, because he taught him everything he knows.
Contact Mark Monroe at:email@example.com 419-724-6110.