(Left) A senior at Alton High, Jake Bohn is the captain for the Redbird hockey squad and one of the leading scorers on the season. (Right) Marquette Catholic sophomore Caleb Currie looks to block an O’Fallon shot during a MVCHA hockey game on Dec. 21 at the East Alton Ice Arena. Currie has been a key cog in the Alton-Marquette merger on the ice this season.
Alton Redbird club ice hockey coach Abram Henson feels the addition of Marquette Catholic players has done little to change the esprit de corps of his team.
“We’re pretty half and half (between Marquette and Alton),” Henson said. “They’ve (Marquette) come along with us and played well.”
Alton High and Marquette Catholic entered into a co-op arrangement for club hockey this season. The arrangement came to be because the Explorers didn’t have the number of players needed to field a team. The two schools are in a two-year merger agreement and Marquette will field a team again once they have the numbers.
Other schools have entered into a similar arrangement, as locally, Bethalto includes players from Jersey High and the East Alton-Wood River program co-ops with Roxana.
Alton and Marquette might be considered rivals because of the closeness in location, but the two rarely play each other due to the difference in size. Alton High has an enrollment of 2,020 and in regular school sports competes in the ultra-competitive Southwestern Conference with other large Metro East schools such as Edwardsville, Granite City, Collinsville, Belleville East and Belleville West.
Marquette has an enrollment of 422 and competes in the Prairie State Conference with smaller schools such as Bunker Hill, Metro East Lutheran, EA-WR and Mount Olive.
Like most local high schools, Alton competes in the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association in club hockey. However, the two schools haven’t played each other in hockey for years.
“At first I was kind of nervous about it,” Henson said of absorbing players from a rival program. “But we’ve been practicing since the summer. These kids have come together. Our lines are mixed. Our front line is (Jake) Bohn, (Brandon) Lang and (Zack) Hunter — two Alton kids and a Marquette kid. Our second line is (Bryce) Simon, (Joe) Boevingloh and (Scott) Waldrup — two Marquette kids and an Alton kid. They all figured it out and they all play well together.”
Henson also said this group of players took to his coaching style, despite the additions. Boevingloh, Simon and Hunter all attend Marquette, while Waldrup, Lang and Bohn attend AHS.
Entering Monday, Hunter had a team-high 11 goals, while Bohn and Lang each had 10 and Boevingloh had scored 9 goals. Lang and Hunter led the way with 10 assists each. Hunter paced the team with 21 points, while Lang had 20 and Bohn had 19.
Alton’s goalkeeper Caleb Currie, who had recorded 396 saves as of Monday, attends Marquette. He also said that putting the two different sets of players on the same team meant change on the offensive side.
“This is different from anything they’ve done before,” Henson said. “This is because we graduated so many kids last year. Those kids had played together since they were very young. Some of these kids have played together but it’s been a long time. We do more passing this year than what they’ve been used to.”
On defense, Jacob Eppell (Alton) and Conner Jones (Marquette) play on a line, while Tanner St. Peters (Alton) and Mark Vitali (Marquette) play on another line.
“The Marquette guys play more of a stay at home defense while the Alton guys chase the puck a lot more,” Henson said. “There’s strengths in both approaches. The guys who chase the puck create an offensive pressure.”
Alton had compiled an 8-7 record so far this season as of Monday.
All of the MVCHA teams have played on the same level for the first half of the season, but will now split into two divisions for the second half and the postseason.
The Redbirds were in fifth and the top six teams will split into the 2A division, while the bottom six squads drop into a 1A division. The second half of the season schedule begins Jan. 11.
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