Despite graduating seven impact players, the Orange ice hockey team appears poised to make a run at a 10th consecutive Baron Cup appearance this season.
Returning from a 20-6 campaign that included a 10-0 mark in the White South Division of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League, the Ice Lions are out to a 5-3 start under new head coach Mike Teplitzky.
An assistant to Chagrin Falls head coach Jim Revak the past four years, Teplitzky takes the reins of an Orange program that has nine freshmen and only eight returners on a roster of 19 players.
“It’s a little bit odd, because we share a rink,” Teplitzky said about Orange and rival Chagrin Falls both practicing and playing out of The Pond in Auburn Township. “So, I see the coaches I worked with and the players I coached, and now I’m coaching against them. But it’s exciting. I learned a lot from coach Revak and am using what I learned to kind of put a new twist on a program that’s been very strong the last couple years.”
The Orange and Chagrin Falls puck-handlers locked sticks on the ice during a 6-2 league battle that went in the Lions’ favor on Saturday night.
Orange owned a 2-1 lead at the second intermission before teeing off with four lamplighters in the final frame from four different players: senior defender Kyle Haddon, freshman forward Piper Coker and senior forwards Matt McCusky and Justin Beachler.
“Chagrin was a little thin. They had a couple of high-contributing players that weren’t active for the game,” Teplitzky said. “I wish they were full strength, because we want to take everybody on at their best, but my guys and girls just did what we had to do – forechecked hard, stayed out of the box, did well on the power play, scored a couple goals in bunches and just tried to outhustle a team that couldn’t throw too many lines at us.”
The Tigers actually owned a 1-0 lead at the first intermission, before Beachler and junior defenseman Tommy Hill lit the lamp in the second period.
While Orange graduated first-team all-GCHSHL forward Scott Hill and first-team defenseman Zach Cohen, as well as second-team forward Jake Sonkin, they returned first-team goalie Danny Moore, who is now a sophomore netminder between he pipes.
“We started off super slow,” Teplitzky said of the Chagrin game. “I noticed that right off from the get-go that we were not skating at full speed. Then we really kind of came out in the second and really tried to take it to them and skate around them instead of skate with them. So, the speed and intensity picked up.
“And one thing I’ll tell you about every game we play, our key is Danny Moore. He’s our sophomore goalie, and, if we’re having a bad period or a bad game, we’re still in games or winning games, because Danny is just a wall. He took care of us in the first when we weren’t taking care of business.”
Moore finished with 16 saves against Chagrin Falls and has 87 saves in four White Division games this season.
The only goalie on the Lions’ roster, Moore shows up with his “A” game every day and has the mental fortitude to focus on his next save after getting scored on, Teplitzky said.
Also returning with all-GCHSHL honors, Beachler was a second-team selection last season. Joining him on the Lions’ starting line so far this season are fellow senior McCusky and freshman Coker.
“I think she’s had a goal or an assist in maybe three games in a row and logging pretty significant time as a freshman,” Teplitzky said of Coker. “She’s started every game so far on a line with two seniors. So, that’s a lot of responsibility, but she’s stepped up.
“She’s just fearless. She’s not the biggest person out there, but you’re not going to scare her. She’s super tough, she’s got great hands, she’s a great skater and knows where to be.”
While senior Haddon and junior Hill are the Lions’ top defenders, as well as regular goal scorers, freshman defensemen Ajay Deshpande and Jackson Fellinger have earned their spots on the ice.
“They have great hands and great feet,” Teplitzky said of Deshpande and Fellinger. “They’ve both been fantastic. And as far as what made a lot of freshmen come out and what stands out about this class, one thing that’s really helpful is if the players like each other and genuinely enjoy doing this together and being around each other rather than just having a shared interest in hockey. And this is a group that really likes each other.”
Skating on Orange’s second line for the majority of its first eight games, meanwhile, are sophomore center Jason Kornbluth, junior winger Jackson Leb and senior winger Abby Goldschmidt. Kornbluth and Leb are varsity returners, while Goldschmidt is playing her first year for Orange.
After defeating Chagrin Falls, Orange lost a 7-5 division battle against Canfield (5-2) in a tale of three periods on Sunday at The Pond.
Canfield, which defeated Orange, 7-4, during the Bruce Anderson Memorial tournament championship game less than a week earlier, soared to a 4-0 lead in the opening frame on Sunday.
But defenseman Hill found the back of the net on assists from Coker and McCusky before the first intermission, and then Hill lit the lamp again off assists from junior forward Sam Stover and Deshpande to cut the deficit, 4-2, to open the second period.
“He’s primarily a defenseman, but when I need a guy to come up and stack a line and score a goal, I don’t think twice about who to ask,” Teplitzky said of Hill. “He’s scoring goals in bunches and also staying out of the box. He’s been everything for us. If I asked him to play goalie, he’d do it tomorrow.”
Kornbluth then got busy on a hat trick to provide the Lions a 5-4 lead, before Canfield could net the equalizer with less than a minute to go in the middle frame.
“It’s funny. You get in the locker room after a period where you just get smoked,” Teplitzky said about the 4-1 deficit. “And it’s real easy for everyone to go, ‘Well, this game’s over.’ But (Moore) led the charge and said, ‘That didn’t look like us. That’s not a team that’s four goals better than us.’ We just looked slow and sloppy.
“Then we stayed out of the box and let them take like five straight penalties, and Jason Kornbluth scored a natural hat trick in about four minutes. That’ll get you back in it. He’s great at possessing the puck, he’ll wait for you to make a mistake and then take advantage of it.”
Canfield went on to score two unanswered tallies in the third period for the victory, as Orange’s White Division mark dropped to 2-2.
Up next, the Lions will take on Avon (0-6-2) in the opening round of the Benedictine Christmas Tournament at 8:45 p.m. Friday in Cleveland Heights.