With sleepy eyes complementing their worn-out bodies, a team of local youth hockey players skated onto the ice together for the final time early this month with a chance to do something they had never done before.
Team Toledo, built up of many of the best area high school players, had designs of winning a national championship, a perfect way to cap a run that for some of them had extended 13 years. Those plans didn't end in their favor. The team lost in the championship game of the USA Hockey 18-and-under national tournament April 3 in Gates Mills near Cleveland.
A group of star players hailing from some of the best high school programs in the area lost 6-3 to the Hatfield Ice Dogs out of Pennsylvania to finish as national runner-ups. It was Toledo's sixth game in five days.
Team Toledo was built 13 years ago by coach Dennis Roudebush, who stayed until the end. Kids came and went from year to year, but, amazingly, of the 19 players on this year's roster, six were founding members as 5-year-olds.
"This was it," Roudebush said. "This was kind of the end of the era."
In seven tries, Team Toledo won seven state titles, including one this past March in Findlay, and made two appearances in the national tournament. Over the years, the team has played in tournaments everywhere from Philadelphia to Indianapolis to Chicago.
Northview's Graham Kelsey played all 13 seasons for Team Toledo.
"We were all around the rink together, and we all hung out and knew each other," he said. "It was fun to see how far we got together, but it was also disappointing to end up losing."
Kelsey was one of four players from Northview on this year's team; he was joined by Dalton Carter, Nolan Culver, and Austin Gryca. St. Francis, which won the Ohio High School Athletic Association state tournament in March, was represented by five players -- Connor Frey, Tyler Murphy, Nathan Opblinger, Kasey Rupp, and Ben Torchia. Other team members were: the Monroe St. Mary's trio of Eric Comerzan, Josh Diroff, and Eric Shomo; Anthony Wayne's Kevin Hoyle and Zach Ulrich; St. John's Eric Brown; Clay's Devon Eckman; Findlay's Layne Martin; Carleton's Kyle Cobb, and Austyn Roudebush, the coach's son, who attends Whitmer.
Comerzan, Diroff, and Hoyle graduated high school in 2010.
To reach the national finals, Team Toledo had to win five games in four days. None was more exhausting than a five-overtime 4-3 win in the semifinals over second-ranked Team Cleveland. St. John's Brown scored the game-winner about a minute and a half into the period, much to the dismay of a Cleveland-centric crowd that showed up to watch the Nos. 1 and 2 ranked teams in the nation do battle.
Roudebush said that after the first overtime period, he and his assistants "just sat back and watched them play."
"They left everything out on the ice," Roudebush said. "I couldn't be prouder of them."
It was about 2 a.m. by the time the team made it to their hotel, and they had to be back at the arena at 11:30 for the championship game. Fatigue, Toledo players say, factored into them falling behind 2-1 after the first period and 6-2 after the second.
"That semifinal game took everything out of us," Kelsey said. "I don't want to blame it on that, but you could tell we didn't play our best game that final game."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6160.