A lot has changed for the Chagrin Falls hockey team over the last few months.
After capturing the Baron Cup III championship for the first time since 2008, the Tigers will have a new identity when they return to The Pond.
Not only will they have s smaller team but also a new coach in Craig Hoberman.
Hoberman, 52, spent the last two years serving as an assistant hockey coach at Solon High School and will replace Jim Revak who retired at the end of last year.
“I’m honored that Chagrin Falls is giving me the opportunity to coach a team,” he said. “They graduated nine seniors this past season so we have a much smaller squad but I fully expect that this group of players will do well in the Blue North and compete.”
Chagrin Falls dominated the Blue North division last year thanks to a wealth of senior talent. The Tigers’ depth allowed them to use three different lines all armed with prolific scorers.
This year will be a different story as three of the top four leading scorers from last season have graduated. Senior forwards Garrin Bunker, Tyler Bookman and John Ranieri led a high-powered Tigers’ offense by combining for 71 goals and 51 assists.
Those three along with six other seniors leave the Tigers with just 10 players this season down from the 17-man unit they had last year.
“We’ve got a feisty bunch,” Hoberman said. “I think we’ve got threats across the entire ice. We have nine skaters and a goalie. That makes a huge difference in our opportunities. We’ve got nine guys and I fully expect contribution from all nine and the goalie’s going to do what he does which is stop pucks.”
Hoberman worked primarily on the defense when he coached at Solon alongside Frank Nagy. His background on defense goes all the back to his playing days when he played defense for his high school hockey team in Philadelphia.
The Tigers’ defense will boil down to the core of seniors Tommy Conway and Charlie Cimperman, junior forward Alex Newton and sophomore Aiden Cabic. Hoberman sees a lot of potential with his four-man defensive unit.
“As a team we have defensemen that can shoot the puck,” he explained. “They can get the puck through traffic from the point and it gives us an advantage. You can have a great defenseman but that person may or may not have a great shot to put on net. We have three or four guys that can generate a nice shot from the point and opens up many scoring opportunities because of that.”
Hoberman said there is some pressure as he is replacing a coach who led the Tigers to a Baron Cup III title but feels confident in his team’s chances because of the strong dynamic inside the locker room.
Conway will try to set the tone after being named team captain and Cimperman will serve as Conway’s right-hand man as he was voted assistant captain. Hoberman sees a bright season ahead for Cimperman.
“Charlie is a great back-checker,” noted Hoberman. “He’s got nice speed and he has an active stick from a defensive standpoint. Charlie does a great job at getting it out and poke checking on the other team. He’s got that good gap control with when he’s coming back into our defensive zone.”
Manning the goal this season will be freshman Nathaniel Newton. The Tigers will rely on the freshman goalie ro keep the pucks out of the net.
Despite playing one of the most important positions on the ice as a freshman, Hoberman has been impressed with Nathaniel’s demeanor as the season draws near.
“He doesn’t have big highs and lows,” he explained. “Nathaniel stays composed in what he’s doing. He’s controlling the puck and that will continue the more experience he gets and that confidence will continue to grow. He’s moving back and forth in the crease very well so that he keeps everything out in front of him and can see the play as its developing.”
Junior forward Henry Westerndorf will try and spark the offense. Being the third-leading scorer last year with 14 goals and 15 assists, the Tigers’ junior is poised to have even a bigger role on offense this year.
“Henry has a good eye for the game,” said Hoberman. “He hustles, grinds and is not afraid to put the puck in the net. He’s shooting from all parts of the ice which is what he needs to do.”
Hoberman is also optimistic that junior forwards Zech Armstrong and Elliott Despres will take another step forward this year.
He believes that Despres can build off a strong sophomore season last year after scoring 14 goals and recording 16 assists.
“I think Elliot is going to be a strong contributor,” noted Hoberman. “He’s going to see more ice time with a smaller team. He’s fast and nimble and can just throw pucks on net and give himself an opportunity.”
Having scored a goal in every scrimmage so far this season, Hoberman believes Armstrong could be in for a big year as well.
The Tigers will try to defend their Baron Cup III title when they welcome Parma to The Pond on Nov. 19 at 9 p.m.