Clay is one of the more experienced teams with, front from left, Jerry Murray and J.T. Hennessy and, back from left, Josh Utter, David Shaheen, Michael Wojciechowski and E.J. Lamay.
Learning to handle and overcome adversity is something any team that hopes to contend for a championship must learn.
Those in the Clay hockey program received an unhealthy dose of that just weeks into the start of the season, when freshman forward Kyle Cannon suffered a serious neck injury in a tournament over Thanksgiving weekend in Kettering, Ohio.
The 14-year-old was hurt when he was sent headfirst into the boards by an opposing player from Kentucky s Lexington Catholic during the annual Beavercreek Frozen Creek Tournament just outside Dayton.
Cannon has since been airlifted back to Toledo, where he remains hospitalized at St. Vincent Mercy Children s Hospital.
As for the Clay hockey team, the Eagles have forged on while always keeping Cannon in mind.
We ve had some good days and we ve had some bad days, Clay fifth-year coach Frank Butler said. It s tough, but kids are resilient. There s a lot of questions that they re asking. Emotionally it s tough.
The Cannon family gave us their blessing, they want us to pick up and keep moving forward at 110 percent. We re just going to try and do that the best we can.
Clay picked up a 4-2 win Friday over Red Division opponent Southview in its first game since Cannon was injured, but suffered a setback the following night in a 10-0 loss to division rival Bedford.
Still, the rest of the White Division sees the Eagles as a formidable challenge despite all that they ve been through. Clay earned three first-place votes in the preseason coaches voting, with Perrysburg receiving the other three.
Here is a look at the NHC White Division in predicted order of finish:
Clay (7-17-2, 1-7 White Division) lost only two seniors to graduation.
The Eagles will be led this season by a talented group of four seniors goaltender E.J. Lamay and forwards Jerry Murray, Michael Wojciechowski and David Shaheen.
Murray, along with J.T. Hennessy, Patrick Perlaky and Devin Eckman, are back after playing travel hockey last season.
Adding those travel players to a young roster, it s a big benefit because skill-wise they re as good as anybody in northwest Ohio from the Red Division right on down, Butler said.
Lamay is beginning his fourth year on varsity for Clay but is facing competition from sophomore Josh Utter.
With E.J. being a veteran goaltender, you always have to give him the nod, Butler said, but he s really getting pushed. Josh is closing the gap on him really quick. We look for big things from Josh this year and years to come.
Perrysburg (26-6, 7-3) returns plenty of firepower up front, even with the departure of forwards Steve Lowe and Kevin Quinn.
Senior center Danny Lopez (34 G, 51 A), senior forward/defenseman Jared Keever and junior forward Matt White take over the reins and should keep the lamp lit early and often for the Yellow Jackets, who have eight returning letter winners and four seniors.
We should score some goals this season, Perrysburg second-year coach Jeff LaCourse said. We have four or five guys who can really put the puck in the net. We lost three forwards who accounted for 76 goals in 32 games last season, so we re losing about two goals per game. We ll need to find guys that can fill that void.
Chad Kinshaw enters his second year in goal after starting every game for Perrysburg last season.
Our goaltending is strong, LaCourse said. We had an outstanding second half last season and hopefully we can carry that over.
Bedford (18-6, 9-1), a three-time defending White Division champion, is right on Clay and Perrysburg s heels as the third-place pick.
The Mules have 10 letter winners back, including four seniors, but must find a replacement for last year s White Division player of the year, goalie Luke Fornier, who was a three-year starter at Bedford.
Sophomore Mark Blankenship has been given the task of filling the big shoes left by Fornier.
He s young and inexperienced, Bedford fifth-year coach Randy Menchaca said. To be honest, he s struggling a little bit right now.
In front of Blankenship, the Mules will be relying heavily on two pairs of brothers. Senior forward and captain Garryt Kujawa is assisted by Jesse and Drew Bachli, while tri-assistant captain Jared Kujawa leads the defense.
It s going to have to be a mixture of guys that will get us through the year, Menchaca said. Everyone is buying in, and we definitely have to prove to ourselves.
Maumee (13-13-3, 3-5-1) returns 14 letter winners and five seniors, a group Maumee second-year coach Scott Young said will determine how successful the Panthers will be this season.
Forwards Jason Young and Joe King headline the list of upperclassmen.
We have a real strong senior class, Young said. Those guys can compete with anyone in the whole league.
Sophomore Austin King enters his second year in goal for the Panthers and appears ready to elevate his play.
Being a year older is key for Austin, Young said. He s now at the point where he s ready to win some games for us this year.
Central Catholic (7-18-1, 1-7-1) returns a boatload of experience, with 16 letter winners back. But with only three seniors, the Irish still face uncertainty with plenty of youth in the mix.
Senior co-captains Tony Thardich and Mark Morris should help further the development of the younger players on offense, while junior defenseman Colin Marzec leads that unit.
Senior goaltender Dylan Cross will also be heavily relied upon.
We have 14 freshmen and sophomores on our roster so on paper we re essentially a JV team, Central second-year coach Steve Nowak said. We ll have to work hard and stay disciplined.
Whitmer (16-10-2, 6-4) is picked to finish last, but not in the eyes of second-year coach Danny Frey.
The Panthers return nine players and have five seniors, including captain Kyle Wood, who led the defense in goals, assists and plus/minus last season.
Senior goalie Brad Reash should also keep Whitmer in a lot of games after posting an 11-6-2 record last season.
Senior forward Tyler Althouse (13 G, 19 A) is the Panthers leading returning goal scorer.
Whitmer will remain a front/middle of the pack team, Frey said. We will win games based on the fact that we will never give up. Hard work will be the key to our success, and we look forward to another successful year.
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