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Lancers take streak to hockey final four
Lancers take streak to hockey final four
By TONY LANGE
Skating on a 15-game win streak, Gilmour Academy's ice-hockey team is one of four Ohio high school programs still practicing this week. The Lancers haven't lost a game since Jan. 15.
After beating Shaker Heights, 4-0, last Friday and claiming the Kent District championship, the Lancers (35-8-2) advanced to the state tournament in Columbus. They play Lakewood St. Edward (26-13-2) Saturday at 3 p.m. in the semifinals at Nationwide Arena.
It will be the Lancers' second trip to the final four. In 2008, they lost to St. Edward in the championship game. During the regular season this year, the Eagles were ranked third in Ohio by the State Ice Hockey Coaches, while the Lancers were ranked seventh. With only 85 teams in the state, there is just one division in Ohio high school ice hockey.
This season is one of the most successful for the Lancers' Varsity A team, head coach John Malloy said. This is his eighth season with Gilmour, and he's looking for his 500th career victory on Saturday.
"We've won more games than we've ever won. We've won more tournaments than we've ever won in the same season. We have players that have broken the scoring records," he said. "So, just overall, there is a lot to be proud of with these guys."
During their four postseason games, the Lancers have outscored their opponents, 28-2. Netting six of those goals was senior captain Matt Grider, who checks in at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. He is the leading scorer for the Lancers this season.
Grider transferred to Gilmour last year as a junior. With his family still living in his hometown, Ann Arbor, Mich., he lives on campus and participates in the academy's boarding program.
"I was just looking for a better place to play," he said. "I kind of wanted to spread my wings a little bit, move out into the world, and I thought the dorms would be a good idea. To get to live with a few other guys on the team, it's a pretty good experience," Grider said.
"It's a great feeling to know that I'm helping lead these guys, and they look up to me and that we all respect each other."
Part of Gilmour's success comes from the schedule and the tournaments the team plays, Malloy said. The Lancers compete against teams from Indianapolis, Chicago and Pittsburgh.
"We play in a lot of tournaments in the tri-state area and some of the best teams from each of those cities and states," he said. "Our schedule this year was set up so that we would not be afraid of playing against any team in the state. What that has done for us is given us confidence, but it had also given us respect."
The Lancers played St. Edward earlier this season and lost, 1-0, to the Eagles during the Holy Cross Cup on Dec. 6.
Goaltender Oliver Flesher, a junior, said the mind-set going into Saturday's match-up is just to treat it as any other game. "We're trying to play it off like nothing big," he said. "We're just going into it like we would any game -- calm and collected -- and not make a big deal out of it, because if we make a big deal out of it, we'll tense up, and things happen when we tense up."
Flesher shut out Shaker Heights and tallied 23 saves during the district final game last Friday. Gilmour only had 19 shots but scored four of them. Many of the Red Raiders' shots were low-scoring-chance shots, thanks to the Lancers' defense, the goaltender said.
"We have each others' backs," Flesher said. "If I do my job and keep the shots out of the net, I think I can easily and the team can easily be able to win any game, even if a team shoots at around 30 shots."
Gilmour's team commitment to defense as a whole has been one of the secrets to success all season, Malloy said. The Lancers have defensemen who have the ability to stop other teams' star players one on one, but, if star player gets repeated one-on-one opportunities, sooner or later he will beat the defender and score, he said.
"You don't want to leave your defensemen on an island by themselves when they go up against those guys," he said. "We have really good defensemen, but we don't want to leave them isolated. So we have a team commitment by the forwards to come back and help out and support our defensemen, and we've done that."
Last Saturday, before the Lancers knew who they would match up against in the state semifinals, Malloy said their game plan was pretty set.
"We'll probably spend about, I would say 10 percent, 15 percent preparing for Padua or St. Edward in terms of anything that they may be doing," he said. "The rest of the time, I think, is just staying sharp and keeping our focus correct and letting the boys enjoy their teammates, enjoy the moment," Malloy said. "I don't want to be one of these coaches that put so much pressure on them that they come to practice and they can't enjoy the moment."
The Eagles' power play and penalty-kill situations will be areas the Lancers will take the time to prepare for, Malloy said.
"We have a really smart team," he said. "They can adapt on the fly."
Being on a 15-game win streak really helps the confidence of the Lancers, Flesher said.
"It's a streak we're not looking to break, obviously," he said. "It really shows we control our own destiny. We can really do whatever we want if we really work hard and put our mind to it."
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