NORTH OLMSTED — There’s nothing like a chance at a conference title to get the juices flowing.
“That’s what you want as coach and player,” Avon hockey coach Kyle Botos said of the Southwestern Conference Tournament that gets under way today at the North Olmsted Recreation Center. “(A) conference title should be a challenge and this upcoming weekend should be fun. All of the teams have a different path but will have equal opportunity to make it to Monday for a chance to play for the title.”
The stepladder-style tournament kicks off at 3:30 when fifth-seeded Avon Lake takes on Westlake and will conclude with the championship game Monday at 3:30 p.m.
Avon lost to Midview in the championship game last year, but this is a much different Eagles team. Avon relies on defense and the goaltending of Danny Fielding instead of last season’s high-octane offense.
It might not be enough. While Avon hasn’t allowed more than three goals in any of its six games since Christmas, it only has a 3-2 win over Olmsted Falls and a 5-1 win over Twinsburg to show for its effort.
But though Avon is just 5-17, it has played SWC foes Midview and Amherst close recently, losing 3-2 to Midview and 1-0 in overtime to Amherst.
Avon Lake is a team that could make some noise this weekend, though it’s seeded just fifth despite a 16-5 record, mostly due to playing in the lower Blue Division of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League.
The Shoremen have gone 2-2 versus SWC teams this year, beating Falls and Avon, while losing to Amherst and North Olmsted.
“On the surface it’s very challenging to create intense rivalries when all the teams play their games in three different levels of the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League,” Avon Lake coach Fran Sullivan said. “With the cyclical nature of rosters the difference between team No. 1 and team No. 8 is often huge.
“This year is different and I think that the eight teams right now are as balanced as they have been in a long time. While the odds are certainly greater for some schools, it would not be a total shocker if any of the eight schools won the tourney this year.”
The Middies (7-5-2) should have a good chance to repeat. They play a tougher schedule in the Red Division where they are in third place, just two points behind Strongsville after losing 5-2 to North Olmsted on Sunday.
As one of the top two seeds as voted by the coaches, Midview gets a bye to the Sunday’s semifinals, where it will meet Westlake, Avon Lake or Olmsted Falls at 3:30 p.m.
Second-seeded Amherst (19-2 White Division) will play Avon, Lakewood or North Olmsted (10-4 Red Division) in the second semifinal Sunday. The Comets have wins over Avon, North Olmsted and Avon Lake and split with Olmsted Falls.
“I feel it’s a great opportunity for the players to represent their school and at the same time get to play in a very competitive tournament,” Comets coach Steve Morris said. “All the schools have a chance to get on a roll and win it.”
Contact James Brady at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All Games at the North Olmsted Recreation Center
(seeds in parentheses)
(5) Avon Lake vs. (8) Westlake, 3:30 p.m.
(6) Avon vs. (7) Lakewood, 5:30 p.m.
(4) Olmsted Falls vs. Avon Lake-Westlake winner, 3:30 p.m.
(3) North Olmsted vs. Avon-Lakewood winner, 5:30 p.m.
(1) Midview vs. Olmsted Falls-Avon Lake-Westlake winner, 3:30 p.m.
(2) Amherst vs. North Olmsted-Avon-Lakewood winner, 5:30 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 3:30