Photo by Dan Cruz
Edwardsville all-time leading scorer Tyler Schaeffer controls the puck against CBC in a Mid-States regular-season game at the Granite City Ice Rink. Schaeffer set the all-time scoring record this season as the EHS ice hockey program continues to grow and flourish, joining Mid-States in Missouri this season, while also having a MVCHA varsity program filled with mainly underclassmen.
Last week, the Edwardsville Tiger hockey program showed the nation what it is all about, finishing 3rd overall in the 2017 USA Hockey National Tournament in Cleveland, losing 2-1 in overtime to Santa Margarita, Calif., in the semifinals. Santa Margarita ultimately lost to Bayard Rustin, Pa., 4-3 in the tournament final.
Tiger goalie Matthew Griffin made 39 saves on 41 shots in the semifinal game, making several key saves to keep the championship within reach for his team.
“To go to overtime and lose was kind of disappointing; we kind of felt like we had our A game,” EHS head coach Jason Walker said. “We give a lot of credit to the team we played that morning. They really played us tough and we were maybe a little tired, but Matt Griffin showed everybody just how much he meant to our team. He was outstanding and gave us a chance to tie it late, and we just couldn’t bang one in before they did, but to finish 3rd and to make it to the semifinals of nationals was quite an accomplishment.”
Walker knew he had a special team coming into this season.
“We knew that the last 5 or 6 years, we have really started to hit our stride as a program,” Walker said. “This year we had 14 seniors. We knew we were going to be good, but it was always up to them to work together and make it happen.”
Carson Lewis, Jared Nosser, Reilly Patton, John Paul Krekovich, Colin Fischer, Jaren Smidt, Logan Bielicke, Rory Margherio, Tyler Schaeffer, Trevor Henson, Ben Gibbons, Connor Stewart and Lucas Tucker all were part of a nucleus of players who started their high school hockey careers in 2014 and have advanced to the highest stage of high school hockey in the nation.
En route to the semis, the Tigers played teams from Allen, Texas, (W 9-5); North Broward, Fla., (L 7-5); and Marriotts Ridge, Md., (W 10-0); in pool play before advancing to play Orange Lutheran, Calif., which they beat 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
When everything was said and done, it was an impressive showing for an area hockey team on the national stage.
“The guys really took pride in making sure that our area was well-represented, because I think that we always have been under the assumption that our area doesn’t get the credit as far as hockey goes. It was nice to represent our area,” Walker said.
Not only did the Tigers make an impressive showing by reaching the semifinals of the tournament, they also made an impression on the individual level.
Schaffer and Lucas finished 1-2 in both points and goals. Lucas was the overall points leader with 16 (9 goals, 7 assists). Schaffer netted 10 goals for the tournament lead in that category and had 3 assists, good enough for second place in overall points behind Lucas.
Three other Tiger players also finished in the top 10 in assists. Connor Stewart and Mitchell Oberlag tied for 5th with 5 assists apiece, and Trevor Henson racked up 6 assists, which tied him for 2nd place in that category. As a team, the Tigers led the tournament in scoring with 31 goals in 5 games.
Schaeffer has agreed to play next season with the Boston Bandits of the United States Premier Hockey League in the inaugural National Collegiate Development Conference.
“Schaffer’s game is going to translate well to the next level of hockey,” Walker said. “We are really excited to see where he takes it from this point; he is a hard worker, loves to play and this is going to be a great opportunity. He is a special player. The more the game mattered, the better he played, which says a lot about him.”
The National Tournament in Cleveland comes on the heels of an impressive season.
The Tigers have played in the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association, the league of Metro East schools with club hockey teams, since the program started. This year they were approached by the Mid-States Club Hockey Association, the league of mostly St. Louis area teams, to join them for the 2016-17 season.
The Tigers made the most of the opportunity, making a name for themselves in the Mid-States league by finishing third overall in their conference behind perennial powers SLUH and CBC, then marched through the playoffs, earning a semifinal berth in the Challenge Cup, where they lost to CBC.
The team was approached about joining the Mid-States League after 3 successful years in the MVCHA.
“It was a pretty easy decision all the way around,” Walker said. “The year previous we were beating up on teams; it was frustrating for us, getting lopsided scores. Nobody benefits from that.
“We’d played a lot of games over the last few years outside of the MVCHA; we knew that we would stack up fine, but the motivation for our guys was that we hadn’t played a lot of those teams before in St. Louis,” Walker said. “I don’t think they knew how good we were, so it was one of those things where the guys were really excited to show everybody not only that we were good, but that hockey on this side of the river was good, too.”
Although half the team is graduating this year, the Tigers have key players returning for next year and are hoping to repeat their success.
Griffin, junior James Akeman, junior Trevor Dailey, junior Stanley Lucas, sophomore Mitchell Oberlag and sophomore Mason Young are some of the important returning players.
“Next year will be an interesting thing; we have a lot of guys who are ready to take the helm,” Walker said.