By Josh Brown
TROY — Last year’s performance made this year’s top priority easy for Troy hockey coach Phill Noll to name.
“Win our division of the SWOHSHL (Southwestern Ohio High School Hockey League), that’s our No. 1 goal,” Noll said. “We dropped down from the top five teams to the lower six, and that was a downer. We knew we were struggling, but we were happy with how we played in the division. Still, we thought we could have done better.”
After finishing the season 15-15-2, the Trojans finished fifth in the five-team SWOHSHL Red Division, meaning that this season they will play in the six-team Gold Division. And should they win the Gold this season, they would move back up to where they feel they belong next year.
Even with the drop in division, though, the Trojans still made positive strides.
“We did have some success last year,” Noll said. “We won a game in the state tournament for the first time in about five or six years, and those little successes do count.”
One Trojan also reached an individual milestone along the way and is in position to hit even more, even if that’s not truly a goal.
Senior A.J. Noll became only the 14th Trojan to hit the 100-point mark in his career last season and is the team’s leading returner in goals and assists.
“There’s only 13 other guys that have reached that mark, and he did it pretty early in the season, too,” Noll said. “He’s fourth overall in points and is about 40 from the top, is about sixth in goals and fourth in assists and needs about 30 goals and 15 assists, so both of those are in reach, as well.”
And while the individual numbers might not be as important to the senior as victories, one does lead to the other.
“He’s not one for stats. He’s cares about winning games,” Noll said. “To him, if the milestones happen, they happen. The day he got his 100th point, he didn’t even know how close he was. I told him he had 99, and he said ‘why did you tell me that? Now I’m going to be nervous.’ Our players never know what their stats are during the season. We don’t tell them until after the year is over.”
The Trojans also return three more seniors that are big-time contributors in Doug Eardly, Tyler Hess and Troy Moore.
“A.J.’s going to be the backbone of the team, but we also have other players that are stepping into roles that we needed filled.,” Noll said. “Troy is the backbone of our defense. Doug and Tyler are both offensive players that are capable of scoring at any time. And junior Prestyn Hoefler is another dangerous player.”
Joining the team is junior Caleb Salazar, who attends Troy Christian — a school without a hockey team. Caleb Mangas and John Wehrkamp return to add depth to the defense, and junior Charlie Ryan is back on offense along with a host of young players looking to learn the system.
Junior Cory Neff and sophomore Shaemus Nevin will once again share the duties in net.
“Cory and Shaemus will be sharing goaltending duties again,” Noll said. “We’re still not sure who is going to step forward and be the No. 1 guy. We’re still evaluating on a daily basis. If one guy gets hot, we’re going to continue to ride that horse.”
And while the Trojans want to win their division, there are other things they need to do along the way to get there.
“My philosophy that we tell the kids is that we won’t win every game, but we do have to get better and improve in every game,” Noll said. “In the preseason so far, we beat Sycamore 6-0, then Anthony Wayne 6-0 and Witmer 9-0. So we were sitting at 21-0 goals and three wins, and we thought we were having success. Then last weekend we scrimmaged Centerville, and they beat us 5-3. We did some good things, but I think that Centerville games opened up some eyes.”
Troy opens up the season this weekend at the Frozen Creek Tournament at Kettering Rec Center, facing Indian Hills at 11 a.m. Friday, then Athens and Dayton Stealth on Saturday — with a potential shot at Beavercreek, the team that replaced the Trojans in the SWOHSHL Red Division, who is hosting the tournament.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.