Talawanda’s hockey team entered the new year with a 12-1 record for the season and looking to add to that success as league play heats up. They are hoping to return to the glory days when a Talawanda team made it to the state’s tournament semifinals.
Head Coach Zach Sens took over that position last May as he and then-head coach Jared Sacre switched places and Sacre became assistant coach.
The team closed out the 2019 portion of their schedule in strong fashion capturing the championship of the Rough Rider tournament in Kent, Ohio Dec. 22 with an overtime 3-2 win.
“It was a cool tournament with a lot of local teams. We’ve been going for about ten years. This was our first time winning it,” Sens said. He said they had strong competition in the tournament and handled it well. “Hudson was tough. They are and in-district team from Columbus and we played them twice. Overall, it was a solid effort. Everybody got playing time. It was a solid team win.”
The tournament was an eight-team round-robin event, reshuffled on Sunday so the top teams played each other.
Now, the Brave has sights set on league play in the Southwest Ohio High School Hockey League. Talawanda has not won the league since 2009 and play in the Red division with Alter, Beavercreek and Centerville.
They came into 2020 with only two SWOHSHL games played, defeats of Alter and Beavercreek, both of which Sens mentions as strong this season. They opened the new year with league wins at Centerville by a 6-2 score Jan. 3 and defeating Troy at home Jan. 4 by a 10-1 count.
The SWOHSHL lost St. Xavier this year as the Bombers changed to a Columbus-area league.
“January will be hot and heavy with 14 games over the month, three or four games every weekend,” Sens said.
That January schedule will include the Pioneer Classic tournament over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, which Sens expects to be a challenge but a chance to measure his team against potential postseason opponents.
“It will be a good chance to see some in-district teams and see where we fall in the state,” he said.
The only loss of the season came in the championship game of the DiPaolo Tournament at Miami’s Goggin Ice Arena when they fell 3-2 to Amherst Steele High School. They had beaten that same team a day earlier 7-2 and went 3-1 in four games that weekend.
Sens took over the coaching reins last spring but is familiar with most of his players since he coached the 14-U team in the feeder program and has been a high school assistant for three years. He credits Miami University’s Mike Norton and Justin Camuto for running a strong skill-based youth hockey program which helped develop many of his high school players this year.
“I credit the senior class. I was probably the least close to those kids but they bought in. The juniors and sophomores were familiar with how I coach,” he said.
Junior Ben Shrider is the team’s leading scorer with 14 goals and 20 assists in his first year on the team through games of December while the defense is led by senior Jack Tincher, described by the coach as, “Plus 26 on the season. He is really, really incredible. He almost never gets scored on.”
A highlight for the season so far was a 6-1 win over Findlay, a perennial powerhouse hockey squad.
“That was an eye-opener for everyone. It was a big part of our season. It showed us maybe we are a bit better than we thought we were,” the coach said. “This is a pretty fun group right now. This is our best team in ten years.”
Talawanda’s January odyssey continued this week with games against Elder, Beavercreek and Bowling Green Thursday through Saturday and will head to the Pioneer Classic this Friday for games through Jan. 20. They will play at Sycamore Jan. 24 and be home for games against Springboro Jan. 25, Alter Jan. 30 and Bishop Watterson Jan. 31.
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