An improved hockey team looks forward to a winning season

By Parijat Jha

Junior Neil McKenzie plays center on the second offensive line for UA.  After a lot of hard work during the off season, the Bears are off to  a strong start this season. Photo by Emily Poole

Junior Neil McKenzie plays center on the second offensive line for UA. After a lot of hard work during the off season, the Bears are off to a strong start this season. Photo by Emily Poole

Recovering from a disappointing previous season, the Bears had much to improve when they stepped onto the ice this past November. For their first game on Nov. 27, the hockey team had the odds against them as they faced their opponent, the Centerville Elks, 2009’s state championship semifinalists.

To the dismay of viewers, the Golden Bears surprised many with their outstanding performance, beating the Elks 4-2.

The team this season has continued to improve with each game. Senior captain Ethan Burton is optimistic and hopes to surpass last year’s season, a year when the Bears set a record for most losses in a season.

“Last year we were miserable, but we are off to a better start this season. After beating the Elks and tying our division rivals Dublin Jerome, I think we can do a lot with our season,” Burton said. “All we need to do is work hard, and we can do it.”

Despite the agains-the-odds win against Centerville, head coach Jay Graham and the Bears were not entirely surprised by the outcome of the game. Hours of practice and months of hard work had combined to build a team stronger than previous years.

“After last year’s season, we did not step off the ice. Instead we worked hard for each other, and through this we’ve gelled together as a team,” Graham said. “So during that Centerville game and all of our other games[since], we never stop and we never quit. Because we are a family and don’t want to let each other down.”

Another key component to the team’s improvement is the large amount of experience earned by the squad returning this year. Players such as juniors Neil McKenzie and Jack Sansbury have been racking up many varsity minutes since their freshman and sophomore years. McKenzie and Sansbury are crucial members of the first two lines in the Golden Bear’s offense.

“We’ve improved through training, lifting, and practice, but having 19 returning guys gives us so much experience, and it has given us all an ability to bond, and form chemistry,” McKenzie said. “The experience has given us depth from our seniors, like Ethan Burton, to improving young players, like [sophomore] K.C. Kessler.”

The team’s morale is further helped with the addition of a brand new locker room. The upgraded facilities, at UA’s home arena the Ice Haus, have given the Golden Bears a place to call home and a reason to strive for greatness. According to McKenzie, everyone has his own locker, each labeled with the player’s name above it.

“Through generous donations we were able to get a new locker room this year. From custom stalls and fresh paint to beautiful acrylic signs, the locker room has it all,” Graham said. “Not only does it give us a better appearance, but it also gives us reason to play harder, and show everyone we deserve it.”

While the locker room bumped up the team’s charisma, this attitude gave the Bears a fighting chance to beat another rival, the Northview Wildcats. The close game ended in a loss for the Bears; however, the team was not discouraged.

“We always play elite teams in the north. The Northview game was made for us to lose­—at times it seems like our schedule was made for us to lose—­each game helps us prepare for the state tournament,” McKenzie said. “We’re facing more competition than a lot of central Ohio teams, and in the end we hope that it will help us achieve our goals.”

According to Graham, the Bears main goals this year are to be one of the top three teams in the league, go to the district tournament, and make an appearance in the frozen four— in other words: to be state semifinalists.

“Our goal is to always work hard and to know that each time we come off the ice we left it all out there,” McKenzie said. “No matter win or lose, we work hard for each other, and we keep each other motivated, so in the end hopefully we can finish the season strong.”