St. John s has plenty of experience back, led by, from left, Eric Brown, Ray Morris, Luke Stansfield and George Wilkinson. The Titans finished 26-10-1 last season, but in third place in the NHC Red Division.
The Blade/Lori King
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Sometimes it doesn t always pay to be the champ. Two years ago, St. John s Jesuit captured the first state hockey title for the Toledo metro area, but the Titans were unable to live up to preseason expectations last season en route to finishing third in the Northwest Hockey Conference Red Division. In fact, the Titans stayed under the radar for most of the season in the battle for Red Division supremacy, as Northview edged St. Francis for the league title after the pair staged several epic duels throughout the regular season and in the tournament.
Sometimes it doesn t always pay to be the champ.
Two years ago, St. John s Jesuit captured the first state hockey title for the Toledo metro area, but the Titans were unable to live up to preseason expectations last season en route to finishing third in the Northwest Hockey Conference Red Division.
In fact, the Titans stayed under the radar for most of the season in the battle for Red Division supremacy, as Northview edged St. Francis for the league title after the pair staged several epic duels throughout the regular season and in the tournament.
Still, that didn t take the bull s-eye off the Titans backs heading into this season. St. John s received three first-place votes and was once again picked as the preseason favorite by the Red Division coaches.
Here is a look at the NHC Red Division in predicted order of finish:
St. John s (26-10-1, 6-3-1 Red Division) has more experienced pieces in place than most teams in the league. The Titans, with eight seniors, have nine letter winners.
Senior defenseman Luke Stansfield (6 goals, 15 assists) is expected to be the rock for the Titans.
I ve never seen him get beat one-on-one, St. John s sixth-year coach Mike Hayes said of Stansfield. He controls the game for us.
In addition to one of the best defenders in the area, the Titans feature two of the best scorers as well in senior Ray Morris (29 G, 26 A) and junior George Wilkinson (18 G, 18 A), a transfer from Northview before last season.
The Titans also welcome sophomore forward Eric Brown to the program after he spent last season playing travel hockey.
We have a couple of the better players in the league, Hayes said. The dynamic will be different for us this year. In the past, our scoring was more spread out. This year we have more star power but less depth.
Goaltending will be the early question mark, as is the case nearly all across the wide-open Red Division.
Senior Luc Gibb and junior Christian Davis have split time so far early in the season.
We have a solid core of four defensemen, so hopefully that will allow those guys some time to grow, Hayes said.
Northview coach Mike Jones has the unenviable task of replacing legendary figure Jim Cooper behind the bench this season, but he s already received an early vote of confidence with the Wildcats picking up two first-place votes from the Red Division coaches.
Northview (28-4-1, 8-2) also has nine letter winners back, including six seniors.
But the Wildcats have lots of holes to plug with the graduation of forwards Carter Bourland, now with the Toledo Cherokee, and Brandon Snead, defenseman Tyler Puhl and goaltender Craig Trego. They were all named to the All-NHC Red Division first or second team.
Senior forwards Matt DuVall, Kyle Hymore, Nile Culver and Bobby Napierala will be expected to fill the scoring void, while sophomore Matt Stevenson and freshman Austin Gryca will battle it out for the goaltending duties.
The Wildcats will also count on an influx of youthful energy from its 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster.
With a new coach and new system, it could take us a while, Jones said.
Taking over for Jim Cooper, a legend in Sylvania, some days I feel like Aaron Rodgers. I played for Coop, and he taught me a lot of life lessons. One of my goals is to pass along some life lessons to these guys as well.
Findlay (15-14, 3-7) earned the other first-place vote in the preseason coaches voting, and the Trojans are definitely a team to watch heading into the season.
Returning 16 letter winners, including five seniors, the Trojans could be contenders for the Red Division crown after taking their lumps last season with eight freshmen seeing game action.
A pair of talented senior forwards, Tyler Thines (35 points last season) and Ryan Chance, will once again be counted on. Sophomores Lane Martin, Alex Henry and Trey Bracy now have a year of varsity experience under their belts and could also be poised for big seasons.
Ray Morris, a senior, is the top returning scorer for St. John s. He scored 29 goals and had 26 assists last season.
Our eight freshmen from last season are really starting to make their mark, Findlay third-year coach Dan St. Jean said. That year of experience should really pay off for them.
Junior Travis Friar and sophomore Max Poe have been tabbed to take care of the goaltending duties, while junior defenseman Cy Otto leads that unit.
If you re capable of being a strong defensive team, you give yourself a chance to win hockey games, St. Jean said. If you take care of your zone first, then good things will happen.
St. Francis (22-15-4, 7-2-1) was hit harder by graduation than any other team in the area, arguably, with the departure of nine seniors.
Gone are forward Chris Dyer (103 points last season), defenseman Louis Woody and goalie Mychael McAninch Red Division first team selections. Other huge losses are forwards Nick Wawrzyniak, Will Gerken and Will Grossman and defenseman Nate Connolly, an all-league second team selection.
We re in a rebuilding year after losing nine solid hockey players, said St. Francis second-year coach Brian Kinsella, who guided the Knights to the state final four last season.
We ll have to battle frustration early in the season because it s going to take time to build the chemistry that that group had.
The Knights do return one key piece from last year s puzzle in junior center Scott Loy.
Titans senior Luke Stansfield (six goals, 15 assists last season) is a team leader and one of the top defensemen in the area.
He s so fast on the ice, Loy said. He s a tremendous hockey player that we hope will be a dominant force for us and will elevate his play this season.
Complementing Loy up front will be senior Mike Simone, juniors Will Hartkopf and Brian Brookover, sophomore Nathan Oblinger and freshman Trent Streichart.
Manning the pipes will be Ed Klausner.
We re an inexperienced team, Kinsella said. We ve been making a lot of mistakes early on and we re working on cutting down on that.
Bowling Green (12-14-3, 3-7) last won a Red Division title in 2005, but the Bobcats defensive strength could have them back in contention this season.
Bowling Green returns 13 letter winners and seven seniors, including defensemen Matt Ruehl and Ryan Whitson.
Four of the six BG defenseman have varsity experience, which should help ease the burden on a pair of rookie goaltenders sophomore Nick Morris and freshman Nathan Gay.
Senior winger Adam Crawford (8 G, 10 A) and junior center Joe Harris (8 G, 13 A) lead a thin group of forwards.
After a slow start to last season, the Bobcats ended with an 11-2-3 and hope to build on that accomplishment.
We re making positive strides, BG 20th-year coach Dan DeWitt said. We hope to keep improving game-to-game and week-to-week and we ll see where we are at the end of the year.
Southview (13-15, 2-8) returns 10 letter winners and three seniors this season.
The Cougars team MVP from last season, forward Stephen Howard (15 G, 15 A), is among that group. Juniorforwards Steven Dibble and JustinPortillo should also provide Southview with more punch in the scoring column.
Good things are also expected from junior goalie Erik Fisher in his third year on varsity.
We ll be a better scoring team this year, Southview seventh-year coach Wayne Collins said. We have some firepower up front, and I d match our first line with anybody in the league.