SPRINGFIELD — A group of 20 boys from high schools across the Dayton area left for Plymouth, Minnesota, early Wednesday morning to play in a national hockey tournament. They didn’t just get together for this one week, and they aren’t buying their way into the tournament.
The Dayton Stealth has skated under the radar for years, and now they want everyone to know they are a real hockey team with skilled players and an experienced coach. Don’t let the label of club team, they say, fool you.
The Stealth earned this trip for the second time in three years to the 16-team USA Hockey National Championships by winning the Ohio Scholastic Hockey League tournament after a 17-1 season in league play. The Ohio High School Athletic Association sponsors hockey and a state championship. Beavercreek, Springboro, Troy and Alter field varsity teams. The Stealth exists for all the others who want to play high school hockey.
Myhockeyrankings.com publishes ratings in every state. In Ohio, the Stealth rank first among club teams and third in the combined rankings of club and OHSAA teams. Cleveland St. Ignatius and Olentangy Liberty, which just won the OHSAA title, are the only teams rated higher than the Stealth. The Stealth, which has a large youth feeder program, also has the advantage of being able to play a much bigger schedule and the ability to travel to tournaments around Ohio and out of state. They have played 48 games since September heading into nationals. They practice and play home games at the Chiller Ice Rink in Springfield.
“I’m totally excited,” said senior Robbie Reed, a center from Oakwood High School. “There’s no better way to describe it. I’m ready for it. The boys are prepared. When skate meets ice, we’re going to go as hard as we can. We’re going to give our best effort, and beyond that we can’t control it.”
The Stealth begin play at nationals Thursday against a team from Des Moines, Iowa, at 11:15 a.m. Then they play a team from Nevada at 5:45 p.m. Friday and team from Texas at 5:30 on Saturday. The quarterfinals and semifinals are Sunday, and the championship game is Monday at noon. The games are livestreamed at nationals.usahockey.com/usahockeytv.
“It’s obviously a huge opportunity,” said senior center Landon Bechtolt of Centerville. “We battled our hearts out at state. It’s all coming together and this last weekend we really got something going again.”
The Stealth made it through pool play two years ago into the quarterfinals and placed fifth. This year’s team is more experienced with 11 seniors. The players say the six-month commitment is worth it.
“We love the game,” Bechtolt said. “The blood, sweat and tears of the last six months — this is what we’ve been playing for.”
The Stealth is coach by Kelly Friedman, a Dayton native who coached at different junior league levels for many years. He gave it up and then was convinced several years ago to coach the Stealth.
“It’s old school, we have that smash-mouth play, we’ll body up with a lot of finesse and a lot of skill,” he said. “And we’re fast. One thing we rely on is our speed. We will get into a track meet with anybody that wants to chip it and go. Going to nationals is fun because of the fact that we’re going to see teams just like us, if not a little bit better.”
For the players who want to play beyond high school, hockey doesn’t have the move-on-to-college system that is true of other sports. Most players must work their way up on the junior circuits for at least two to three years before getting a chance to play in college. It’s common for a freshman college player to be 22 years old, Friedman said. He loves coaching high school players and preparing the more talented ones for juniors.
“We develop, which to me is fulfilling, and this is why I do it,” he said. “They have raw talent, but they really don’t understand how the game works. So we teach them the game. Before, when they were playing, they were basically depending on nothing more than their skill. Now we give them systems, meaning they have a purpose. They have a place to be, they understand where the their teammates should be. They understand the flow of the game.”
Coming together from 12 high schools (Fairmont, Centerville, Northeastern, Oakwood, Northmont, Chaminade Julienne, Bellbrook, Waynesville, Miamisburg, Beavercreek, Springboro, Brookville) is rewarding for the players. They don’t just see each other at practice twice a week and at games on weekends.
“We were all hanging out last weekend,” Reed said. “This is one of the closest teams that I’ve ever had in terms of chemistry and relationships. We like to call it a brotherhood. We have our scuffles, it gets heated in practice, sure. But at the end of the day, we’re not only like brothers, but we really are great friends.”
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