Talawanda hockey players earn all-league honors

A short roster, COVID-19 precautions and injuries played havoc with the Talawanda hockey team this season but they still managed to overcome those challenges and post a 15-17-2 record and see eight players earn all-league honors.

One stand-out player for the Braves was senior Andrew Shrider, who was selected to play in the State Senior All-Star Game yesterday among the top 50 players from around the state from all positions. Shrider entered that game having been credited with 86 points for the season, on the strength of 46 goals and 40 assists.

He was one of two Talawanda seniors chosen first team all-league for the season by the Southwest Ohio High School Hockey League. The other was Parker Geshan, who had 65 points — 30 goals and 35 assists.

First-year Head Coach Jack Spaulding said he is proud of the way his senior-dominated team rose to the occasion and played through adversity to accomplish more than anyone should have expected.

“We had a really good start. We beat Amherst 4-0 in our Thanksgiving tournament. It was a benchmark win but right after that we got hit by the injury bug and it stayed with us through MLK weekend. We never, truly, had a full roster,” Spaulding said, but injuries seemed to ease up at that point until yet another injury. “A defenseman missed the state tournament with a concussion. Injuries affected us with only 12 skaters and two goaltenders on the roster.”

He said a roster of 12 skaters would be ideal if everyone stays healthy. A roster of ten is too few and would require players to have too much ice time over the course of a season, equivalent to NHL players.

“In the state of Ohio, there are usually about 16,” he said. “We pulled off a couple upsets. All you can ask of a team that size is they battle every time. A couple wins made people turn their heads. They did everything they could.”

In addition to concussions and other injuries, the team also faced a “COVID rush” where five players tested negative beyond the initial case, but it took away from practice time.

“It was hit and miss with practice but it is better to have them healthy for a game than for an 80-minute practice on Tuesday night,” Spaulding said.

Spaulding is a 2015 Talawanda graduate who played in goal for the school’s hockey team. He said he was one of two goalies his sophomore year 2012-13 and handled all the goaltending duties the next two years. Since his high school graduation, he has been involved in Miami University’s hockey camp, first as a team counselor for one year, then as senior counselor until taking over as goaltenders coach.

“This is my first true head coaching experience but I have coached the better part of eight years,” he said. “I am honored they chose me to be in this position. I saw the posting in August and talked to the former coach, Zach Sens, and he gave me his seal of approval. The assistant last year, Ross Gann, had it offered but he deferred but I am pleased he stayed as my assistant. He is very much hands-on and was crucial to the success they had last year.”

He praised the support of the school and parents during his first season as Talawanda coach.

“(Athletic Director) Wes (Cole) was helpful throughout the year. Parents were supportive and understanding about me not having the responsibility before,” he said. “Parents were helpful. I thank the parents and athletic department for all they did.”

Spaulding is putting out a call for any Talawanda student interested in playing hockey to join the team next year, when they will be trying to replace a host of this year’s seniors. A bright spot for the next several years, however, emerged this season in freshman goaltender Mason Kolb. One of those seniors started the season as the goalie but went out with a concussion and mononucleosis, leaving a freshman to adapt to varsity play.

“Mason did well. He had to tread water early but he got better. I’m glad he is here going forward,” the coach said. “We have ten seniors of a total roster of 14. We are very much in need of players. We have a couple coming up through the ranks and may have a couple more with open enrollment. There is a player who wants to play with his friends. I just hope we have enough players to keep the program alive. Anyone who is interested is welcome.”

The Southwest Ohio High School Hockey League held its all-star game March 4 and Talawanda was represented there as well as on the league’s all-SWOHSHL teams.

The SWOHSHL all-league lists recognized the play of four Talawanda seniors on the second team and two received honorable mention. Second-team honorees were James Anzano, Daniel Emenaker, Zach Goetz and Jack McKinley. Named to the honorable mention list were Luke West Poley and Jack Sikora.

Three Brave players each scored 16 goals for the season, putting them in double figures in goals scored to join Shrider and Geshan. West Poley was one of those three and he added 24 assists for a total of 40 points. The other two with 16 goals were senior Max Kelly, who added 9 assists, and McKinley, who had 11 assists.

Goaltender Emenaker accumulated a saves percentage of 87.70 by stopping 321 shots out of 366 aimed his way, while Kolb stopped 122 of 143 shots for a saves percentage of 85.31.

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