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Anthony Wayne looks to win the Blue Division for a fourth straight season with (front, from left) Zak Seipel and Zak Tansel and (back, from left) Dan Koralewski and Charlie Witte.
Anthony Wayne senior Zak Seipel scored 25 goals last year and has twice been named Blue Division player of the year.
Generals goaltender Dan Koralewski returns to Anthony Wayne after playing a year of travel hockey with the Toledo Cherokee.
Just as Big Ten football used to be described as the Big Two, Little Eight, the Northwest Hockey Conference Blue Division could aptly be referred to as the Big Two, Little Four.
After Anthony Wayne captured back-to-back league titles,Fremont Ross shared the championship with the Generals last season after they split their two regular-season meetings.
The pair have compiled a combined a 54-6-2 conference record since the 2005-06 season. Last season, they outscored divisional opponents 150-28 beating them by an average score of 8-1.
The rest of the Blue Division has taken notice, as the Generals and Little Giants each garnered three first-place votes in a preseason coaches poll. Neither was ranked lower than second on any ballot.
Fremont Ross took an early upper hand in the standings this season, beating AW 3-1 Sunday at the Fremont Recreation Center. The two meet again in the final weekend of league play at Tam O Shanter on Feb. 14.
Here is a look at the NHC Blue Division in predicted order of finish:
Anthony Wayne (12-13, 9-1 Blue Division) returns a bevy of talent with 12 letter winners and five seniors back, including two-time Blue Division player of the year Zak Seipel. The forward had 38 points (25 goals, 13 assists) last season after playing in only 19 games due to injury.
The Generals also welcome senior goaltender Dan Koralewski back to the program after he left last year to join the Toledo Cherokee 16-under team, which finished as the national runner-up.
Koralewski (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) will be relied on heavily.
He s one of the best goalies in the state, eighth-year AW coach Dave Faulkner said. He s a big, strong goaltender.
Sophomore forward Zach Ulrich also played for the 16-U Cherokee last season and has already made a splash in the program, tallying eight points in a 12-0 win over Thomas Worthington.
Seniors Zak Tansel and Charlie Witte will anchor the Generals defense.
This is our best team ever, Faulkner said. We don t want to lose a game in the league and we want to win as many nonleague games as possible. We have three solid lines to put out there, so our expectations are very high this year. We re really looking forward to this season.
Fremont Ross fifth-year coach Eric Theller likes his chances as well.
The Little Giants (17-7, 9-1) have 16 letter winners back, including nine seniors.
Senior forwards Mike Smith (49 G, 15 A) and Tyler Hall captain Fremont Ross, while classmate Chad Channing should also help compensate for the graduation of Trevor Wenngl, who had 60 points last season.
Tyler is a grind player, and other teams notice when he s on the ice. He s small in stature but has a big heart, Theller said. Chad is our fourth or fifth-leading scorer in team history, so we re expecting good things from him.
Probably the biggest strength for the Little Giants, though, is their goaltending specifically four-year starter Matt Hershey. He posted a 17-6 record last season with an 89.3 save percentage and a 2.4 goals-against average.
It gives us confidence knowing he is back there, Theller said. It s been great having him here for four years. I always expect Matt to do a good job.
Start (11-12, 5-5) has only 10 players, but is still expected to repeat as the third-place finisher. All 10 were letter winners last season.
Junior center Christian Wyckhouse, along with a trio of sophomore forwards Alex Kaser, Ryan Wayne and Travis Grines will be counted on to fill the void left by Dustin Wells, who was lost for the season after suffering a serious back injury in a game over Thanksgiving weekend.
Wells was released from the hospital last Friday but still has numbness in his right leg. He is walking with the use of a walker and is undergoing three days of outpatient physical therapy a week, according to Start coach Matt Oliver.
We ve really come together as a group since the injury to Dustin, Oliver said. It s been tough, but the guys are doing OK.
Lake (2-14, 1-9) returns 12 letter winners, including three seniors, this season.
Sophomore captain R.J. Schultz leads the defense, while senior winger Keith Miller, junior center Gabe Pinciotti and sophomore center Duncan Vail represent the bulk of the Flyers offensive attack.
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Sophomore Tony Horvath begins his second season in goal for Lake.
We just keep adding pieces, Lake second-year coach Craig Horvath said. We ll never be a Northview or St. John s, but as long as we keep building the program, we re fine with that.
Ottawa Hills (7-11, 3-7) returns 11 letter winners but only two seniors this season defenseman Mickey Reams and forward Jameson Pike.
Pike (5 G, 7 A) will be joined by junior forward Michael Deckebach (5 G, 7 A) in leading the Green Bears offensive attack.
Reams will be counted on to lead the defensive effort, which Ottawa Hills seventh-year coach Tom McKinch hopes to build into a team strength this season in front of junior goaltender Chris Brue.
We re focusing on team defense, McKinch said. We ve had a hard time scoring goals so we re really keying in on being a strong defensive group.
Springfield (4-16, 3-7) is facing a retooling year with just eight letter winners back.
Senior forwards Andrew Walker and Josh Greene will be the Blue Devils primary scoring threats.
Sophomores Tony Sofnowicz and Tyler Rhoades stand out on a young defensive unit.
Junior Robbie Bauman and sophomore Chris Parker have split time in goal to start the season for Springfield.
We re definitely in a rebuilding year, Springfield second-year coach Don Dahmer said. We only have three seniors, and one of them is a first-year player. But we re hoping to be a better disciplined team this season and outwork our opponents.