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Published: 2/23/2010

Rivalries enliven 'Tam-O' hockey crowds

BY MARK MONROE
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ben Torchia of St. Francis, left, controls the puck in a Jan. 29 game against rival St. John's. Tickets for the game were sold out two days before the game. Ben Torchia of St. Francis, left, controls the puck in a Jan. 29 game against rival St. John's. Tickets for the game were sold out two days before the game.
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With rowdy student sections stomping the bleachers in unison to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You," the Tam O'Shanter ice rink is jumping.

It's a festive atmosphere on weekend nights when high school hockey takes center stage at the ice facility in Sylvania. When rivals St. John's Jesuit and St. Francis de Sales meet up, the raucous atmosphere is hard to beat.

"It feels like everyone is right on top of you," St. Francis standout forward Scott Loy said. "It's just noise."

The spirited student sections egg each other on with chants like, "We can't hear you!" and "Flush the johnnies!"

The parking lot is jammed when St. John's, St. Francis, and Northview play each other on weekend nights at Tam O'Shanter. The crowds of more than 2,000 pack the place to the rafters.

The 36,000-square-foot multipurpose facility on Sylvania Avenue includes two NHL-sized ice rinks. The arena is the primary site for Northwest Hockey Conference games. The 12-team local high school league plays December through February.

Tam O'Shanter is operated by the Sylvania Recreation District, a collaboration of the city of Sylvania, Sylvania Township, and Sylvania City Schools.

It's always standing-room-only for the big high school hockey rivalries. Tickets for a showdown between St. Francis, the No. 1 ranked team in the state, and St. John's were sold out two days before a Jan. 29 contest.

Decked out in school colors and carrying signs, students pay $4. Adults, mostly parents and relatives of the players, pay $6.

The team members have cardboard posters with their uniform numbers taped up on the glass along the corners of the boards.

Similar energetic environments are sure to fill Tam O'Shanter during two playoff games this weekend. One district semifinal will be at 7 p.m. Friday and another will take place at 7 p.m Saturday. Another sellout is expected for the district final March 6.

St. Francis coach Brian Kinsella, a former pro who played a handful of games in the NHL, said he is amazed by intensity of the rivalry with St. John's.

"The enthusiasm is incredible," said Kinsella, who also played at the Sports Arena as a Toledo Goaldigger.

"There are 2,000 people packed in there. You just don't see that many people jammed in for a high school hockey game."

The winner of the northwest district final next month advances to play in the state semifinals at Nationwide Arena, an NHL rink in Columbus. But for most local prep players nothing beats a Friday night at "Tam-O."

Loy, who has a scholarship to play lacrosse at Syracuse University, also is a standout football player. He said the atmosphere at Tam O'Shanter is incomparable.

"It's better than any place I've played," Loy said. "It's better than football. The crowds are better than any other sport."

Contact Mark Monroe at:

mmonroe@theblade.com

or 419-724-6354.



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