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COLUMBUS — The jubilant Northview players raised the state title trophy over their heads, skated over to former coach Jim Cooper, and surrounded him on the ice at Nationwide Arena on Sunday.
Cooper founded the program in 1976 and led the Wildcats to the championship game four times only to come up just short. Yet, Cooper found himself in the middle of joyous mob of Wildcats just moments after they captured the first state title in school history.
“We’ve worked so hard for so many years and we’ve been so close,” Cooper said with tears welling. “We finally get to raise that banner.”
Over 36 years, the Wildcats had earned a spot in the state semifinals eight times but had never won the last game of the season.
Current coach Mike Jones, now is fourth season, led Northview to the precipice in 2010. The Wildcats lost 4-1 to Cleveland St. Ignatius.
On Sunday Northview finally broke through with a 5-2 win over Lakewood St. Edward. Jones, who played for Cooper at Northview in the 1990s, embraced his mentor on the ice during the post-game celebrations.
“This is his trophy, his state title,” Jones said. “This is his program. I’ve been babysitting it for the last few years. He put more into this program than anybody in any program in any state.”
Cooper retired in 2009 after 33 years at the helm.
“I’m so proud of what coach Jones has done because he’s taken the program to the next level,” Cooper said. “The evidence is right here. In four short years he has a runner up and a state title.”
Longtime Northview athletic director Larry Jones, who retired in 2006 after 22 years, sat with Cooper as the last seconds ticked off the clock. Although many individuals have won state titles for Northview, the school had never captured a team state title in any sport.
“That was the one thing I wanted to do,” Jones said. “That was one of my goals.”
Dalton Carter, who scored a goal in Sunday’s game, said his family has tight ties with Cooper and the program.
“I’ve been around this program for 15 years now from my dad and uncle,” Carter said. “Just being on this team means a lot. To do this means a lot to the school and the alumni. This is something I’ve been dreaming of for a long time.”
Zach Felser said his father Bob, who also played for Cooper, was a major influence.
“My dad taught me everything,” said Felser, who had two assists in the title game. “To be the first to raise that banner is unreal for all the alumni. I can’t believe it. We have a list of players from every year in the locker room who never got to do it. We did it for them. It’s so great. We are a family.”
After learning under Cooper, Jones went on to play four years at Bowling Green State University. After a four-year career in the ECHL, he took over his alma mater in 2009.
“These kids have worked harder than any group I’ve ever seen in my life, including college and pro,” Jones said. “They wanted to do this.”
— Mark Monroe