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State hockey champions get rousing welcome home

  • Austin-Gryca-leads-his-team-through-tunnel-of-fans

    Austin Gryca leads Northview’s state championship hockey team through a tunnel of fans into the festivities.

    <The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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  • Northview-Tam-o-shanter-celebration

    Northview hockey coach Mike Jones shows off the state championship trophy for fans during the homecoming celebration at Tam O'Shanter. Former longtime coach Jim Cooper is at right.

    <The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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Northview-Tam-o-shanter-celebration

Northview hockey coach Mike Jones shows off the state championship trophy for fans during the homecoming celebration at Tam O'Shanter. Former longtime coach Jim Cooper is at right.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
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With a welcome befitting heroes, a police car and two fire trucks escorted Northview High School’s hockey team home from Sunday’s championship game in Columbus to a crowd of hundreds of cheering well-wishers at Tam-O-Shanter sports complex.

The Wildcats’ 5-2 victory over Lakewood St. Edward provided Northview with the school’s first team title in any sport since Northview and Southview were split into separate high schools in the late 1970s.

“It was tremendous,” said Terry Estrel, whose son Cody, a sophomore forward, scored Northview’s first two goals of the championship game at Nationwide Arena. “We got pretty emotional.”

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A growing crowd of students, parents, school administrators and teachers, and others began gathering outside the ice rink complex before 5 p.m. in anticipation of the team’s arrival an hour later.

Jim Cooper, Northview’s first varsity hockey coach, was on hand, chatting with parents and alumni and recalling games won and lost and state championships that eluded him for 32 years. Mr. Cooper, who handed the coaching reins to Mike Jones four years ago, said the title game in Columbus was not a bittersweet moment for him.

“Not in the least bit,” he said while waiting for the team’s arrival. “This is the happiest day in our community.”

Mr. Cooper, speaking to Mr. Estrel, called Cody’s first-period goals “a lifetime achievement.” “It doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.

The bus’ arrival at 6 p.m. at the far end of the parking lot touched off a minor frenzy as fans formed a double line from the entrance to the north end of the parking lot.

Team members, dressed neatly in collared shirts and ties and beaming with ear-to-ear smiles, carried their gear and exchanged high-fives with the cheering fans as they headed to the building.

Senior goalie Phil Bowles, credited with 10 saves against Lewis Center Olentangy Orange in the semifinals on Saturday, called the homecoming attention “surreal,” but added, “it’s a testament to all the support we had” throughout the season and at the game itself.

Austin-Gryca-leads-his-team-through-tunnel-of-fans

Austin Gryca leads Northview’s state championship hockey team through a tunnel of fans into the festivities.

The Blade/Amy E. Voigt
Enlarge | Buy This Image

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” he said amid the throng of well-wishers inside Tam-O-Shanter. Inside, Coach Jones climbed onto a counter to address the crowd.

“Pretty good-looking, isn’t it?” he said, holding up the trophy. The players then joined him in singing Northview’s fight song.

Coach Jones then invited Mr. Cooper to join him on the counter, embracing him and giving him credit for the more than three decades he spent coaching the team.

“It’s for all the kids in the school and it’s for the community and the alumni,” Coach Jones said, handing the trophy to Mr. Cooper.

“This is indeed the finest hockey team in the state of Ohio,” Mr. Cooper said, trying to hold his emotions in check. “It’s obvious we have the finest coach in the state of Ohio,” he added to more cheers.

RELATED STORY: NORTHVIEW WINS FIRST STATE HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP

Nancy Crandell, spokesman for Sylvania schools, said the district plans a formal community celebration of the team’s championship within a week.

Contact Jim Sielicki at: jsielicki@theblade.com or 419-724-6050.

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