When this hockey season started, Westlake found itself in the upper Red Division of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League after the defection of several state-powers to start their own conference.
It took the Demons a few weeks to find their legs, but now they are on a roll, winning 10 of 11 games including a 7-1 victory over Olmsted Falls on Saturday and a 5-3 win over Brecksville on Sunday to capture the Southwestern Conference tournament championship.
The Demons roster is deep, allowing Westlake to play with some of the big boys in Northeast Ohio hockey. That roster also has a talented girl who isn’t afraid to mix things up with the boys on the ice.
Grace Jenkins is no stranger to hockey, playing for the Demons as a freshman. She stepped away from the ice to concentrate on track her sophomore and junior years. That hard work earned her a scholarship for track and field to The Citadel.
Even though she wasn’t lacing up her skates, Jenkins knew three years ago that she wanted to play hockey one more time before graduation.
“Grace told me her sophomore year that when she was a senior, she wanted to come back and play hockey again,” said Westlake coach John Duke. “Of course, you never really know if it will happen. I’m just glad she did.
“She is really a welcome addition back. She loves the game, wanted to come back for her senior year, we are real happy to have her and she has been a big part of our success.”
The Demons team is littered with players who have scored goals and helped out with assists. Jenkins is right there on the list with a goal and seven assists despite not playing competitive hockey for the past two seasons while training for track.
“I really didn’t think much about hockey those two years,” said Jenkins. “I really concentrated on track, but I knew I wanted to come back to play my senior year. Once you know how to skate and play, it really doesn’t leave you
“I really love this team; it’s a great group of guys. They treat me just like everyone else and we all really get along.”
That camaraderie was evident as each player walking past Jenkins while she was being interviewed for this story gave a playful shoulder bump or poke.
Jenkins may take the grief from her teammates, but she isn’t afraid to mix it up with the opposing players. Being the only girl on the ice may even be a benefit to Jenkins while she is playing.
“I’m not sure that opposing players want to be known as the guy that lit up a girl,” Duke said with a grin. “She is in great physical condition and will go full speed every time she is out there. Grace certainly isn’t afraid to muck it up and get after the other team.”
Track and Field may be Jenkins’ first love, but the thought of lacing up the skates again isn’t out of the question.
“They (The Citadel) have a club team and my brother (James) played, so it’s also a possibility. I’m not serious about hockey, but you never know.”
The club hockey team roster at The Citadel is filled with only guys. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jenkins go mix it up with the college guys in a couple of years.
GCHSHL in action
The race for Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League division titles and spots in the Baron Cup playoffs has jumped into high gear, especially in the Blue West Division where Olmsted Falls and Parma sit tied atop the Blue West standings with just one loss each.
The Redmen defeated the Bulldogs in the season’s first league game and the ’Dogs returned the favor with a 6-4 win last Sunday to set up a race for the championship. Each team has all but clinched spots in the Baron Cup III playoffs that feature the top four teams from the East and West divisions.
The Bulldogs are in the driver’s seat with an 8-1 record with two games left against Bay and one against Avon Lake. Parma faces Bay, Avon Lake, Normandy and Garfield Heights.
The White West division race is equally as tight with Avon and Western Reserve Academy tied at the top with 6-1 records. Midview trails both teams with three league losses after winning the first two of the year.
The top four teams in the White West division will advance to the Baron Cup II playoffs. Avon has locked up a spot in the Baron Cup and it looks like the Middies will also advance with Lakewood at 1-6 and Elyria Catholic 0-7 in league play.
Westlake still has some work to do to clinch a spot in the Baron Cup I playoffs. The Demons put themselves into the third and final spot in the Red South with wins over CVCA and Solon last week.
Westlake is currently tied with Solon at 4-3 in the Red South, but it holds the tiebreaker over the Comets. Life would be so much easier for the Demons had the seeds been split between the North and South, but the North division gets five teams into the post-season tournament.
The Eagles are eliminated from Baron Cup with an 0-7 record in their first year in the upper division.
Westlake still has games with division-leading Kenston and Kent Roosevelt and will probably have to at least split those games to have a shot at advancing to Baron Cup play.
All Baron Cup games will start on Monday, Feb. 3 at the Brooklyn Recreation Center.
After the Baron Cup playoffs comes the state tournament, one of the toughest tournaments held by the state. Unlike other sports, every hockey team in Ohio gets thrown into one tournament to come up with one state champion.
The seeding meeting for the Brooklyn regional featuring all of the local teams will be held on Feb. 5 in Brooklyn. Teams will start the quest to knock off state champion Shaker Heights on
Feb. 10 with all games being held at the Brooklyn Recreation Center.
Down and out
Elyria Catholic has been struggling with a tough season thanks to low numbers in the program. Now things are a little tougher for the Panthers. Leading scorer David Kukucka broke his collarbone and is out eight weeks, effectively ending his hockey season. The group at EC will keep digging deep to keep the program moving in the right direction for next year.
Let there be heat
Props go out to the guys running the scoring box for Elyria Catholic for their much-needed heat in the box at North Park Recreation a couple weeks ago.
Throw in the eclectic range of game music and you have a group of guys that move to the top of my in-game list of favorites.