A proud hockey tradition has been built at Northview but one very large prize remains elusive.
The Wildcats' roots reach to the early 1970s, and since then they've earned a spot in the state semifinals seven times. Northview has finished runner-up three times, but has never captured the ultimate accolade — a state championship.
“That is something we talk about all the time,” second-year coach Mike Jones said. “So many good teams have been to the state, but none has ever had that banner, or ring, or gratification. If we win this, it is for hundreds of guys' blood and sweat.”
The Wildcats (20-8-3) play Dublin Coffman (30-7-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. The winner will face either Cleveland St. Ignatius or Hunting Valley University School in the state championship at noon Sunday.
The Wildcats beat St. John's Jesuit in the district semifinals before routing Findlay 7-1 in the final. Northview has won 10 straight games.
“That definitely boosted our confidence,” senior Jordan Jones said. “We're on a roll.”
The Northview foundation started in 1972-73 as Sylvania High School before the school district was split into two schools in 1976. That year Jim Cooper embarked on a 32-year odyssey that would include three appearances in the title game and a 585-354-34 career record.
“This is Coop's program,” Jones said. “He built it with time and love and life lessons. I'm just babysitting this thing. There's a ton of carry over.”
Eight Northview graduates have gone on to play in college. Two also have gone on to play pro hockey, including Mike Jones.
Cooper's last second-place finish came in 2006 in one of the most gripping state finals in history when Northview suffered a tough 6-5 OT loss to Parma Padua Franciscan.
“I remember watching it,” junior Tyler Harding said. “They were the best and most successful team in school history. Everyone expected them to come home with gold. It was a heartbreaker. It would mean a whole lot because Jim Cooper put so much time and effort in.”
Harding is one of nine players have collected 13 or more points this season.
“I can count on all the lines,” coach Jones said. “They are all rolling.”
One line consists of juniors Nolan Culver, Aaron Booth and Harding. Booth leads the team in scoring with 21 goals and 10 assists. Culver is second with 29 points (15 G, 14 A). Harding has 23 points (4 G, 19 A). Both Harding and Culver earned All-Northwest Hockey Conference first-team honors.
“Nolan Culver and Aaron Booth are both great players,” Harding said. “I just give them the puck and see what they can do.”
Another top line consists of senior Mark Hall (11 G, 16 A) and sophomores Dalton Carter (10 G, 18 A) and Zach Felser (15 G, 12 A).
A seasoned defensive corps also has been a strong suit.
“There's a lot of maturity back there,” Jones said.
Senior Jordan Jones, juniors Graham Kelsey and Ross Roberson, and sophomores Kyler Omey and Brent Easton form the backbone in front of sophomore goalie Austin Gryca.
Gryca had split time with junior Matt Stevenson in net. Gryca has a 10-5-0 record with a 2.51 goals against-average. Stevenson (9-3-3) has five shutouts and a 1.93 GAA.
“Down the stretch it hasn't been an easy choice,” Jones said. “It's kept me up at night. Matt Stevenson could start at a lot of other schools. But Austin has met the challenge. He's been nothing short of excellent.”
A pep rally will be held tomorrow morning and the team bus will pass by the elementary schools in Sylvania before heading to Columbus.
“We'll enjoy that,” Jones said. “We'll watch a movie on the bus going down there. But once we hit that ice, everything has to shift. It becomes all business.”
Although Northview received the more favorable draw playing the winner of the Columbus district, Jones doesn't see it that way.
“I've watched Dublin Coffman on film,” he said. “I don't care if it's perceived to be in the weaker part of the state. It's an excellent hockey team with an excellent goalie.”
Still no Columbus district winner has reached the state final. “We're not looking to start a new trend there,” Jones said.
Jones said the team has to stick to its saying, “Be brilliant in the basics.”
“We just need to keep doing what we've been doing,” Jordan Jones said. “That's playing blue collar hockey, getting pucks in deep and crashing the net.”
Coach Jones said the program prides itself on being a public school with a solid hockey team.
“They've never felt inferior to anyone,” Jones said. “We don't fear anybody. I don't want that to come across as arrogant. They are just sure of themselves.”
Jordan Jones vowed he'd leave anything out on the ice.
“We're the first team back there since 2006. We'll play our hearts out,” he said.
Harding said the team plays with supportive, positive attitudes just as Cooper preached.
“We need to pay Coop back more than anything,” Harding said.
Contact Mark Monroe at:email@example.com 419-724-6354.