|Flashes from Gordon: BGHS hockey becomes relevant again|
|Written by Sentinel-Tribune|
|Friday, 14 February 2014 09:29|
Bowling Green High School's hockey program is finally relevant again.
The Bobcats are playing consistently well, finding ways to win and skating with confidence.
They're 17-9-1 overall and ranked ninth in the state entering tonight's district playoff opener against Ottawa Hills.
The Bobcats' first district championship and first trip to the state semifinals since 2004 is a realistic goal.
BG, which returned 18 lettermen, is assure of its first winning record since 2009.
"We thought we had a chance to be successful this season after the growth we had last season," said BG coach Dan DeWitt, who is in his 25th season. "We're bigger and stronger, and we've increased our skill level. The kids believe in themselves."
BG finished 15-16-1 last season, matching its combined win total of the two previous seasons.
The Bobcats started 10-4-1 this season before losing five straight - two to second-ranked St. John's, two to Ontario schools, and the other coming to St. Francis.
Since then, the Bobcats have won seven straight - five by one goal and a sixth one by two goals where the second goal was an empty-netter with just over a minute to play.
Four of the wins were against Northwest Hockey Conference opponents, one was against an Ontario school, and another was against defending state champion Shaker Heights. Six of the seven wins came in a nine-day period.
Although the Bobcats expected to be better this season, they were still last in the NHC coaches poll. BG finished 5-3 in the conference and is guaranteed of no worse than a tie for second place.
"We're just worried about controlling the things we can control on and off the ice," DeWitt said. "We tell the kids to play our game and not to flinch, and we've done a good job of managing adversity. The kids deserve the credit."
BG fell from Ohio's elite under a perfect storm.
A drop in enrollment in the city's youth hockey program A significant increase in the cost of ice time. Fewer multi-sport athletes. The success of the school's boys basketball program under former head coach Von Graffin. The decline of the Falcon hockey program.
There were those who even blamed DeWitt and assistant coach Eddie Powers, claiming the coaches were too negative, unable to communicate, played favorites and were unable to relate to their players.
Combine the reasons and the number of players in the program has declined.
BG used to have a full roster of 20 players on its varsity and junior varsity teams, and it cut players from both teams to reach that number. The JV team no longer exists and the varsity has just 21 players this season.
"It's taken us longer than we thought it would to get the program back to where it is now," DeWitt said.
The Bobcats have won four of their six state titles under DeWitt and Powers, although the last championship on the ice was won in 1998.
They've made 13 trips to the state Final Four under DeWitt and Powers, including four second-place finishes.
But DeWitt said the Bobcats made two significant changes after they went 7-19-2 in 2012.
They now spend a quarter of every practice working on skating, passing and shooting to increase their skill level.
During the summer, DeWitt now oversees the program's weight lifting and conditioning. Before that, DeWitt set up an offseason program at a local fitness center, but not enough players were attending.
He's also changed how the Bobcats use their 10 summer practices. They now meet 10 times for 90 minutes each, instead of just playing two weekend tournaments that accounted for the two days.
"The ice time players were getting in those tournaments wasn't even an hour combined," DeWitt said.
Last season, BG started stressing continuous improvement. And this season, they've focused more on the details of their game, instead of concentrating on the Xs and Os.
"All of the changes have paid off," DeWitt said.
The Bobcats have fared well this season with a team effort
No one player has carried the team and no single player has to be great every game.
Five Bobcats have scored at least 10 goals, six defensemen have played and goalie Tanner Fausnaugh has a .903 save percentage.
BG still has a chance to post its first 20-win season since 2004 when it was 27-2-1.
"If you're relying on a handful of players, you're only going to go so far and having everyone contributes really helps team morale," DeWitt said. "That's what good teams do.
Next season should be good, too, as BG is dominated by its 10 juniors and six sophomores. It's also been without forward Ryan Emans, who hasn't played because of shoulder surgery to repair a football injury.
Emans had 19 goals and 21 assists last season.
BG has a small, but good senior class of Fausnaugh, defensemen Drew Mankowski and Justus Smith, and forwards Keegan O'Brien and Phillip Rich.
"It's one game at a time and we still need to continue to improve, no matter how far we go (in the district playoffs)," DeWitt said.
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