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Published: Wednesday, 12/3/2008

New varsity hockey stirs excitement at Monroe High School

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Members of the Monroe High School varsity hockey team are, from left, front row, Joshua Doll, Alexander Compean, Michael Durkin, Kyler Kleindeinst, John Mulligan, Matt Van Otten, Jordan Prewitt, Dillon Montalvo; middle row, Nick Roof, Cody Popovich, Brennan Gibbs, Dustin Pilgrim, Alec Swindeman, Stephan Mayes, Nick Diehl, Hank Meyerholtz, Zach Wilson, Joseph Smigielski, Gary Simmons, Cameron Barron, and back row, assistant coach Jason Clements, head coach Isaac Murphy, assistant coach Jeff Dare, assistant coach Mark Dare. Members of the Monroe High School varsity hockey team are, from left, front row, Joshua Doll, Alexander Compean, Michael Durkin, Kyler Kleindeinst, John Mulligan, Matt Van Otten, Jordan Prewitt, Dillon Montalvo; middle row, Nick Roof, Cody Popovich, Brennan Gibbs, Dustin Pilgrim, Alec Swindeman, Stephan Mayes, Nick Diehl, Hank Meyerholtz, Zach Wilson, Joseph Smigielski, Gary Simmons, Cameron Barron, and back row, assistant coach Jason Clements, head coach Isaac Murphy, assistant coach Jeff Dare, assistant coach Mark Dare.
HANDOUT NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

MONROE - Isaac Murphy always wished he had been able to play hockey in front of his classmates while attending Monroe Jefferson.

Now Murphy is helping give a group of players at Monroe High School an opportunity to do just that. For the first time in its history, the school is fielding a varsity hockey team, and Murphy is the head coach.

"All of the parents and kids are so excited," he said. "I've played hockey my whole life. But we did not have a high school hockey team.

"Now the students are really interested in it [at Monroe]," Murphy said. "The players are getting a lot more recognition. That would have been something that would have been good to have when I was playing."

Last year, the school fielded a junior varsity club team. there had been previous attempts to start a program at Monroe, Murphy said.

The team practices and plays its home games at the Monroe Multi-Sports Complex on North Dixie Highway.

The team held its first home game on Nov. 18 against Lincoln, and Murphy said the excitement was palpable.

"That's why this is so good for the boys. The students are really into it," he said. "We're get-ting people to games, and it is a whole different ball game. I had so many people call me after our first game."

The school again is fielding a junior varsity team, which has 17 players this year. There are 21 players on the varsity.

"Our numbers are not bad at all," Murphy said. "But we have a young team."

Monroe has just three seniors. Every team member has played travel hockey.

"I'm not taking over a team that can't stand up on their skates. They just need to figure out our system and the coaching staff."

Senior captain John Mulligan is the team's top player. The center had three goals and three assists in the first three games this season.

"He's a big kid with a real heavy shot," Murphy said.

Senior defenseman Matt VonOtton is the team's assistant captain. Sophomore defenseman Brennan Gibbs also will lead along the blue line.

Sophomore forward Mike Durkin is "not big but is a hustler," Murphy said.

Freshman right winger Gary Simmons is talented offensively and defensively, according to the head coach.

"He has a great future ahead of him," Murphy said.

Junior forward Kyler Kleindeinst also is an assistant captain.

"He's a strong kid and plays well all over the ice," Murphy said.

The goal-tending duties will be split evenly between juniors Cameron Barron and Nick Roof.

"They are equal. They've both been playing goal their entire life," Murphy said.

Murphy, 30, has been coaching for nine years.

Murphy played two years of junior travel hockey when he attended Monroe Jefferson.

"The rink here was not built until the end of my career," he said.

Murphy said he played midget hockey and then competed in the Central States Hockey League for a team based in Dearborn, Mich.

He said he played in four state championship games in the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association when he was a teenager.

When he was in high school, the majority of the talented prep hockey players competed in midget travel hockey, he said. They did not play for their high schools because most did not have varsity teams, he said.

"Now it's done a complete 180," he said. "A lot of the kids that will go on to play junior hockey or in college are coming through the high school ranks. It's been a role reversal."

Murphy said very few of his classmates would attend his travel hockey games.

"There would be 40 to 50 people max at those games," he said. "But now we are getting a couple hundred to these high school games," Murphy said

When he heard about the new coaching position at Monroe, he immediately applied and interviewed for the job. He was named head coach in June.

Although the Trojans lost their first three games of the season, Murphy said all of them were close.

"Our system is to dump and chase with strong forechecking," he said. "We don't have a [Detroit Red Wings star] Henrik Zetterberg in our locker room. We'll have to backcheck and do all the little things. It will take 100 percent effort."

The team competes in the White Division of the Michigan Mega Conference.

"The conference title is one of our goals, and the regional title is as well," Murphy said.

He said he is looking forward to next season when all of the school's teams move to the Southeastern Conference. The Trojans will play Bedford, which is a member of the Southeastern Conference, on Jan. 6 at the Monroe Multi-Sports Complex.

Murphy also said every team qualifies for the state tournament. "At that point it's single elimination. Anything can happen. One game can knock any team out," he said.

Monroe's next home game is Saturday against Willow Run at 2 p.m.

"We have a good team. We just need to learn how to win," he said. "We expect to be a great team. We set our goals really high. We're shooting for the stars."

Contact Mark Monroe at: mmonroe@theblade.com

or 419-304-4760.



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