University School eighth-grader Luke Maslowski, of Moreland Hills, and his fellow Cleveland Barons puck-handlers advanced to the district championship title game, but that was probably about as good as it would get.

One of the top six 14-and-under teams in the USA Hockey Mid-American District, which includes programs from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, Maslowski and his teammates were competing in the 14U Tier I Elite Hockey League Mid-Am District Championship tournament in early March at the Lemieux Sports Complex in Pittsburgh.

The Barons U14 Elite Team defeated the Ohio Blue Jackets, 6-4, the Tri-State Spartans, 8-1, and then the Pittsburgh Penguins Black team, 3-1, to advance to the title game against the Penguins Elite team on March 8.

“I’d say, just getting to the championship, a lot of people doubted us as a team,” Maslowski said. “I don’t think one person in the stands watching thought we were going to win because Pens Elite, the ’05 team, is really talented and a dominant team, and I think they were (ranked)13th in the country at the time. I think we were 39th or 40th.

“So, we were definitely going into it as the underdog. And we knew that, if we just worked hard and outworked them, we would be able to pick up the W and go to nationals.”

The good thing about the sport of hockey is that the puck doesn’t know who’s supposed to win.

Maslowski, a winger, provided assists in the Barons’ first two victories and then stole the spotlight with two goals and an assist in the 3-1 triumph against the Pens Black team to propel his squad to the title game.

“I think our team kind of just found some chemistry in that game, and the whole entire tournament as well,” Maslowski said. “We just started playing as a team, moving the puck, which allowed chances for me and my teammates.”

While many of his ’05-birth-year teammates started their hockey journeys in kindergarten, or even earlier, Maslowski didn’t get serious about the game until third grade, he said.

Maslowski said he first got interested in hockey when he was 6 or 7 years old and picked up Wendel Clark’s biography. Clark is a Canadian former professional hockey player who was the first overall pick by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1985 NHL Draft.

“I just read the book a lot, and that’s pretty much how I got into hockey was from that one book,” he said. “Just seeing a sport I’ve never seen before and how they play it, I’d never heard of hockey before that. I mean, I had, but not very much of it – kind of just more ice skating, not really hockey, and I was extremely fascinated to try it out.”

Maslowski started playing for Shaker Hockey – he lived on the border of Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights before moving to Moreland Hills – before joining the Barons in fourth grade. This is his fifth season with the program.

“The thing (the Barons) strive for is player development, and that really shows, because they’ve developed some talent to the DI levels and the pro levels for hockey, too,” he said. “I think it’s probably the only organization in Cleveland that is known for producing elite hockey players.

“So, in fourth grade, I joined a team that wasn’t really the best team in the Barons at any means. It was probably the worst team for my age. In fifth grade, that’s when I joined the good team.”

Through the Barons, Maslowski, who wears jersey No. 88, had the opportunity to meet and get an autograph from Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane, the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Draft who also dons No. 88.

“I actually grew up watching him and had a chance to meet him two years ago, so that was pretty cool,” Maslowski said. “They played the Montreal Canadiens, and we just went down after the players got done dressing and we took a picture and got a couple jerseys signed.

“I think I try to have his hands as much as I can, because his hands really stand out. But I try to emulate my game after Jack Eichel, because we kind of play the same. My shot’s not as good as his, obviously. But, yeah, I try to copy my game off Jack Eichel.”

Eichel was the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

Maslowski’s time with the Barons paid off even further during that district championship title game against Pens Elite on March 8.

Behind a pair of lamplighters from teammates Neal Bartone III and Artem Stepaniants and an apple from Zack Hoyt, the Barons defeated Pens Elite, 2-1, to punch a ticket to nationals.

“It was a very close game. We were up the whole time,” Maslowski said. “So, we scored first, then scored again, and then later in the third period, I think with 1:50 left, they scored, and then it was kind of a race to just defend and just get the puck out of the zone, which we did successfully.”

In particular, Barons goalie Matthew Weiss stood on his head, Maslowski said.

With the Mid-Am Hockey District Championship in hand, the 14U Barons qualified for the national tournament, along with the Boston Junior Eagles, the Florida Lions, the Los Angeles Junior Kings and Shattuck-St. Mary’s. They were supposed to clash in Chicago, but that tournament was cancelled because of the coronavirus.

“I mean, you work the whole entire season to go nationals, or just go to the district championship,” Maslowski said. “And when you work that hard, and then it just gets taken away from you, it (stinks). So, yeah, it was kind of a heartbreaker.”

Enrolling at University School in kindergarten, Maslowski is what’s known as a “lifer” and intends to attend US in ninth grade and beyond.

“It’s the brotherhood and the family environment there,” he said. “Everyone is there to help you learn, help you develop, kind of like the Barons do. But they just help you develop as a student and as a person, which, from grades K through eight, I thought was really helpful.

“But I had other options for high school. So, I was looking at other schools. US was a choice, and then I just thought, I’m staying at US for high school.”

University School has one of the top varsity hockey programs in Ohio, with a string of five straight state final-four appearances from 2015 to 2019, but Maslowski said he plans stay with Barons for now. He hopes to play Division I college hockey someday, he said.

In addition to hockey, Maslowski also plays lacrosse and baseball, but he said he plans to hold off on those sports his freshman year in an effort to adjust to high school.

“The main goal next year is hockey – that’s the goal to get better at,” he said. “But I think the goal is also to know what I’m going into academically, just to manage my time well and get better as an overall student, because I know high school at US is pretty tough. So, I’ve got to get used to that.”

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