By Josh Brown
TROY — Troy hockey coach Phill Noll knows where his team currently stands.
Working on the solution, however, is an ongoing process.
“We’re struggling real bad right now,” Noll said after his team dropped a pair of home games over the weekend to fall to 1-6-1 overall. “The boys are still trying to figure out what their identity as a team is. We don’t know if we want to be a checking team or a physical team or a speed team — and so far, we’re none of the above. We’re struggling.”
Since beginning the season with a 1-2-1 performance at Beavercreek’s Frozen Creek tournament, finishing with a 3-3 tie against Dublin Scioto on the tournament’s final day, the Trojans have dropped four straight. A 4-0 loss at Talawanda and a 10-3 loss at Elder began the skid, then the Trojans dropped their home opener on Saturday 5-4 to Sycamore and lost 4-0 to St. Xavier at Hobart Arena on Sunday in a pair of Southwest Ohio High School Hockey League Red Division matchups to begin division play 0-2.
That all has led to a lot of makeshift lines in an attempt to find something, anything, that works.
“We’re playing all three of the freshmen and a few other players that probably aren’t ready for the varsity level,” Noll said. “We have to come up with some kind of combination, some kind of chemistry between the players, to make things work. And so far, we’re really struggling with that.”
One thing that has been working for Troy, though, is goalie Enrique Alejandre.
Despite facing a large number of shots in each game, the senior has played outstanding. In the 4-0 loss to Talawanda, Alejandre stopped 33 shots. His worst game came against Elder, when he only saved 16 out of 25 shots, and against Sycamore he stopped 20 of 25 shots. In that Sycamore game, Zach Uhlenbrock had two goals and an assist, John Wehrkamp and Grant Gariety each had a goal, Nate Uhlenbrock had two assists and Michael Hess and Caden Lombardo each had an assist, but Troy’s defense simply couldn’t hold back the opposition in the one-goal defeat.
Against St. Xavier on Sunday, Alejandre stopped a season-high 37 shots — but the offense couldn’t put anything together on the other end.
“That’s been the story of our season so far,” Noll said. “Enrique has played very well. He has stopped 90 percent of the shots he’s faced — and when I say that, it’s not like when some of the other goalies that are stopping 90 percent … our defense has just let down so badly that he’s stopping shots that are unbelievable.
“Our defense, we’re lacking at the experience level. We’re moving players from forward to defense, trying to find that combination of players that can physically stop the other players — and mentally stop the other players. We have a couple boys that can go back there, but they give up too quickly, let the other team shoot to often and won’t step up and try to block a shot.”
Two of Troy’s more experienced defenders, seniors Nate Uhlenbrock and Wehrkamp, had still played well, but they’ve also picked up offensive duties, too, and aren’t getting a chance to focus on one end or another.
“Nate’s playing well (on defense),” Noll said. “But again, we’re expecting him to skate the puck up a little bit more, which that causes him to be a bit out of position to come back and play defense. One of the forwards has to stay back to play defense who’s not equipped physically and experience-wise to play defense at that level. And John, who has been playing forward for me, I moved him back to defense this last game, and it seemed to help. He’s also like Nate, where he won’t hesitate to skate the puck up and get involved on offense as a defender, and that helps.”
Still, even though the Trojans lost to St. Xavier on Sunday, Noll saw signs of life and improvement that he hopes are the beginning of a turnaround.
“That last game we played against St. X, they’re always pretty strong,” Noll said. “They normally are No. 1 or 2 in the upper division of our league. They beat us 4-0 — many were expecting a landslide win by them, but we held on pretty well.
“We’re getting better. We’re not good yet, but we’re getting better.”
Troy will look to continue improving when it plays in the Mayor’s Cup Tournament this weekend at South Metro, with games against league foes Alter, Centerville and Beavercreek on the schedule.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.