COVID-19 wreaked havoc across all high school sports last winter, but it appears that Nordonia’s ice hockey was hit particularly hard.
When several local teams closed their rinks due to the pandemic, the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League suspended divisional play.
This left Knights coach Rich Cinalli scrambling to fill his squad’s schedule in a year when Nordonia had to move up a division.
“It was just trying to get as many games as possible,” Cinalli said. “You walk into a game and find out it was called off the day before. We also dealt with COVID in our team. I think that was just the nature of what happened.”
Cinalli said he was happy to play 20 games last season, but the constant disruption and stiff competition left the Knights with a 2-18 record.
Cinalli notes that it was a shame to see his team struggle, as the class of 2021 may have been the best hockey class in school history.
“They were the best team we’ve had since we went to college,” he said. “I had a very heavy senior-oriented squad. I tried to maintain it as much as possible because I didn’t want them to not have a senior year.”
Eight seniors graduated for Nordonia, including twin captains Carson and Kendall Carrell, center Brian Sebastian and starting goalie Tommy Lippincott.
Nordonia will have a smaller roster this winter with just 13 players, but Cinalli noted that almost all of them are returning skaters.
The GCHSHL division system is back with Nordonia falling into the Blue South division. The Knights will face Bay, Brooklyn, Brecksville, Garfield Heights, Twinsburg and Elyria Catholic in division.
After winning the Blue South title in 2020, Cinalli said another divisional title race was “definitely in our sights”.
“It will be a very competitive division,” he said. “I don’t see a team standing out completely from the rest.”
With the smaller roster, Cinalli said the Knights would withdraw their scoring front chess game and move on to a possession violation.
“In previous years, with some bigger teams there was always room for us to fail forward,” he said. “We’re going to be more of a finesse, speed and passing team this year. Over the past years we’ve tried to slow down other teams on failure before. They’re going to have to slow us down now.”
Cinalli’s son Dominic Cinalli joins the Knights coaching staff, along with assistant coach Nick Asbury.
After Lippincott’s departure, Nordonia’s new goalkeeper will be junior Kevin Waite. Although he didn’t start any games last season, Cinalli notes that Waite was with the squad all last season and has improved greatly.
“He’s an athlete. He’s a baseball catcher,” Cinalli said. “He did a fantastic job for us in both of the scrums we’ve had this year.”
Nordonia will have three dedicated defenders in rotation this year, supported by senior assistant captains Nate Owen and Josh Krysinski. Junior Daniel Kimpton retreats to the defense from the front.
When his first three need a break, Cinalli said second Brett Rapp would switch to defense, but spend most of his time at the winger.
“Having these experienced players in defense is going to help Kevin relax,” Cinalli said. “Our defense is strong.”
The Nordonia front row will consist of second-year center Owen Tindall, second-year winger Jacob Waite and senior captain Max Zuschin.
Zuschin is known for his speed, aggressiveness and his tendency to take on players taller than himself.
“He’s our energy guy,” Cinalli said. “He stepped up this year until the spring and was leading the team with captain’s practices. This whole line has a lot of experience.”
The second line anchor for Nordonia will be one of the program’s two freshmen. Center Noah Vega joins the Knights after playing in the Gilmour Academy youth system.
“He is an important addition to our team,” Cinalli said. “He really solidified our attack behind the front row.
Two winning streaks will rotate with Vega, with Rapp and second student Frankie Costello on the left, with seniors Ashley Zelina and Xavier Tedor on the left.
Freshman forward Patrick McNally is a brand new player to hockey, but Cinalli notes he’s made huge strides since the summer.
Nordonia was scheduled to open the season Sunday night against Bay.
The Knights will host the Nordonia Thanksgiving Tournament Friday and Saturday at the Gilmour Academy Arena. Nordona will face Notre Dame-Cathédrale Latin on Friday at 1.45 p.m., Aurora on Saturday at 12:20 p.m. and Parma on Saturday at 6.15 p.m.