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West G grad picked to play hockey for Team USA
West G grad picked to play hockey for Team USA
By TONY LANGE
He was in his Earth history lab at Kent State University when his telephone kept ringing from an unknown caller in August.
"It was a weird number that I kept receiving," said Mike Lepre, West Geauga High School's all-time leading scorer in hockey. "I was like, 'Who is this?' and I finally just stepped out of class and took it."
The previous weekend, Lepre was in Grand Rapids, Mich., trying out at an identification camp for the 2011 Winter World University Games -- an International University Sports Federation event.
About 100 nominated athletes, among a pool of more than 8,000 American Collegiate Hockey Association players, were invited to participate in the three-day camp. Twenty-two players were selected to represent Team USA in Erzurum, Turkey, from Jan. 27 to Feb. 6.
The unknown caller was Team USA's head coach, David Debol, who is also the head coach for the Michigan-Dearborn team.
"I'm glad I answered that finally," Lepre said. "He was like, 'Hey, I would like to have you on my team. Would you be willing?' I was like, 'Of course.' And then I was like, 'Did I make it as a defenseman or a forward?' and he was like, 'Well, somewhat of both, but more of a defenseman than anything.' And I was like, 'Well, cool.'"
Lepre is a business-management major who plans to graduate from Kent State in May. He is playing his third hockey season for Kent's club team and has accumulated more than 45 goals and 55 assists.
While in Turkey with Team USA, Lepre will compete against other collegiate athletes in an Olympic-style tournament, which includes teams from Canada, Russia, Spain, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, Belarus, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic and Slovenia.
USA Hockey has the rights to all United States-based teams playing internationally but does not fully fund Lepre's trip. To participate, he is expected to cover fees and expenses that total $2,800.
Lepre is fund raising to pay for his trip. Contributions can be made payable to ACHA on his behalf to 2011 World University Games, P.O. Box 827, Union Lake, MI 48387-0827. Contributions are tax-deductible.
Lepre has never been overseas before, he said. "I'm just really excited to go there and experience the culture, see how it is and see how different it is from where we live here," he said. "I had a ton of donations from all the West Geauga people, who are awesome, at our alumni game called the Turkey Bowl.
"It's just great that people, some who didn't even know me, handed me cash so I can go over there and have an opportunity like this. Even if it's one cent, that's one cent that I don't have to pay."
Lepre has been skating since he was 3 years old and started playing hockey when he was 5, he said.
"I've been skating for 21 years," Lepre said. "It's been awesome. Every year it just keeps getting better and better. I don't know where I would be without hockey."
One of his best memories playing for West Geauga was when the Wolverines beat Kenston, 5-4, during his sophomore year, the 2002-2003 season, Lepre said. He scored all five goals.
Before high school, Lepre was a member of the Cleveland Barons club team.
"I think I was just looking to have a little bit more of fun and not as much traveling and just to represent and play for my school," he said about switching to play for West Geauga.
After high school, Lepre took off two years before attending Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. He score 14 goals and had 17 assists during his freshman year playing for Robert Morris and then decided to transfer to Kent State.
"Well, I knew some of the guys here, like Eric Horschler, who was my teammate with the Barons," Lepre said. "Knowing those guys was a huge bonus and it was a little bit closer to home, so that helped as well. And the campus was much larger, which suited me. I also believed that I had more opportunities with this hockey program."
Of the five Kent State players who attended the identification camp, Lepre was the only one who was selected for Team USA.
Although listed as a forward for Kent State, the coaches at the tryouts wanted to see him as a defenseman, he said.
"It turned out really well, actually," Lepre said. "I didn't get beat one-on-one. With my speed, I was able to hang in there.
"I don't know if I did anything spectacular. I didn't score any goals. I think defensively I was sound and I think that's maybe something they were looking for."
The competition level that Team USA will face is an unprecedented line in Lepre's hockey resume, he said.
"Most kids on this team can score. Most can see the ice really well and are quick. So, yea, I guess you could say it's kind of like an all-star team. There are a lot of expectations," Lepre said.
"This is my first time ever being on a team where we're going to go compete at such a high level, especially playing the D1 (Division I) men's ice hockey Vermont team. That's crazy. That's awesome. Competition doesn't really get better than that. You can't ask for much more than that. It's a great opportunity once again."
The University of Vermont is one of three teams that Team USA will play during winter break while in Burlington, Vt., before departing for Turkey in January.
ACHA players have represented Team USA in the Winter games since 2001.
Lepre is just one of two players from Ohio on the team. The other is Tyler Pilmore, of Ohio University. Kent State has a big rivalry with Ohio University, he said.
"It's nice because Pilmore is good and he's going to be on my side now," Lepre said. "So, I'm looking forward to it."
It is a crazy opportunity being able to play for Team USA, Lepre said.
"Just being able to represent my hometown, Chesterland, and to show that hockey is growing here, it means a lot," Lepre said.
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