Any hockey team might enjoy success for a season or two. A coach that is fortunate enough to have a few talented players on the roster at the same time should be able to parlay that into a few winning campaigns.
But the goal is to build a program that can sustain success from one group of players to the next, to develop an assembly line of skill that consistently flows through the roster from one season to the next.
Northwest coach Ziggy Ziegler said he is optimistic that Northwest is becoming that type of program.
“This is my 10th year of coaching for Northwest, and our program has definitely grown, and it’s still growing,” Ziegler said. “The kids that we have our feeder program, even in fifth- and sixth-grades, and with the seventh-graders that we have, the eighth-graders now that hopefully will be transitioning to varsity next year, it’s a long list of players, and it’s definitely looking promising.”
It’s just the latest sign of the continuing growth of youth hockey throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area.
“I think you’re seeing that the word on hockey is getting out in the JeffersonCounty area, because Fox has got a good program going, Seckman’s the same way, and we’re building things here at Northwest,” Ziegler said. “There are just so many kids getting into the sport.”
Ziegler said his players are certainly bringing a lunch-pail mentality, both on and off the rink.
“Starting in July, these kids are doing off-ice training almost four nights per week, three hours per night with high endurance work, Pilates, and it shows,” Ziegler said. “Every single one of them has put hard work into it, and it’s definitely paying off.”
It will take that type of effort, Ziegler said, for Northwest to compete on a game-to-game basis against quality opponents in the Mid-States Club Hockey Association.
“For our kids who have never played club hockey, we have to fight,” Ziegler said. “We’re always in an upstream battle when we play teams that have the AAA players and the midget majors on all the upper-end hockey teams that we aren’t fortunate to have. We may not have the pick of the litter, but the ones we do have definitely put in 110 percent every time they play.”
And it’s producing results. Northwest went 6-12-3 last year, just two seasons removed from a winless campaign. Already this season, the Lions have five wins in their first eight games, including a pair over Westminster.
“For us, that’s a big thing,” Ziegler said.
“Every team that we go against, but especially a team like Westminster, a private school loaded with high-end players, we know that our backs are against the wall before the game even starts. With the players that a lot of these teams have, we know we’ve got something to prove, but we’re definitely making a name for ourselves this year.”
Northwest is led by a group of seven seniors whom Ziegler said has shown leadership. A key member of that group is forward Jake Schlereth, who in seven games leads the Lions in scoring with 13 points on nine goals and four assists. Schlereth has recently played on a line with senior Eli Kruse (two goals, four assists) and sophomore Drew Konieczny.
“Those three together have been phenomenal, with the speed that Drew brings and the smartness that Eli brings and Jake’s physical play and goal scoring,” Ziegler said.
Another line has featured senior Ryan Lindsey (five and six) skating with junior Logan Gott (five and three) and sophomore Sean Scanlon (two and one).
“At the beginning of the season, it’s about seeing who has chemistry together, and that trio has worked nicely,” Ziegler said. “One’s physical, one has speed, one has got hands, so they bring everything that you want on a line.”
Other forwards include seniors Trey Johnson, Teddy Oar and Chandler Rauscher, sophomores Michael Mayer and Cody Patton, and junior Garrett Ruble, whom Ziegler called “a diamond in the rough.”
“Those kids bring a lot to the table, and they’re going to do everything they can on the offensive side for us,” Ziegler said.
On defense, Northwest is led by juniors Alac Gamble (four goals, six assists), Spencer Kovacs and Ben Reece and sophomore Sam Oar.
“Other teams are finding out that you’re going to get hit or get the puck taken away from you when you go down in our zone,” Ziegler said. “Those kids are solid defensive zone players, and they’re also going to provide us with some offense. We’ve got a mixture of a little bit of everything back there.”
In goal, senior Clayton Davis has earned the top spot, and he showed why in Northwest’s 3-1 win over Westminster on Nov. 29, stopping 46 of 47 shots. Ziegler said freshman Eli Caine is ready to step in when needed.
“They’re both stellar goaltenders, we can put either of them in there at any time,” Ziegler said. “It’s a good duo that we have, and it makes our future look bright when have a solid goaltender as a freshman.”
Northwest’s next game is against Webster Groves on Friday.
“We’re gritty, we’re hard-working, and we’re fast,” Ziegler said. “We are definitely a hitting, physical team, and sometimes that gets us in trouble, but with the speed and chemistry that we have, we’re a tough team to play against.”