The sport of hockey is taking roots in Northeast Ohio, but the options are still limited for a number of kids who dream of being the next Sidney Crosby or Alexander Ovechkin.
Kent Roosevelt and Aurora are the only high schools in Portage County that offer the sport at the varsity level, leaving club hockey as the only option to kids who would rather pick up a stick than a basketball during the winter months.
The father of two hockey players and a 33-year coach in the sport, Kent resident Mark Goehle said a friend came to him last year with the idea of changing all that.
"Our assistant coach John Paxton had the idea of forming a local club team because the nearest teams are 20 to 30 miles away from here," Goehle said. "So there was a definite need for something more local."
Goehle and Paxton teamed with Tri-County Cyclones Hockey to form the Kent Cyclones, a high school level club hockey program that offers the chance for students from local and neighboring communities to play varsity-level hockey -- an opportunity they would normally have to travel to the Cleveland area for.
Currently, the team has a number of students who attend classes at Field High School, as well as students from neighboring schools like Stow, Cuyahoga Falls and Tallmadge.
Team manager Barb Boyd, a Newton Falls resident and mother of team member Drue Boyd, said that the Cyclones have come along at the perfect time.
"Hockey is an expensive program to support and there just are not a lot of schools in the area that have the sport," Boyd said. "In the last couple of years, three possible club teams those kids could play on have folded.
"A lot of the kids on this team have been playing the sport since they were five or six years old," Boyd added.
"When a lot of these kids get to the high school level, they have nowhere to go. We were driving to Brooklyn Heights or Garfield Heights twice a week before this team came along," Boyd said.
The Kent Cyclones operate with the permission of Kent Roosevelt's program, which Goehle said has been nothing but supporting of the team's development.
"We felt like we wanted the Roosevelt coaches' backing so they didn't think we were just barreling into the area," Goehle said. "There have been some kids who actually wanted to play for us that (went to Roosevelt), but we've steered them to the Roosevelt program.
"(Roosevelt varsity head coach) Ben Barlow has given us his full support," Goehle added. "We know there are plenty of other players out there who want to play hockey."
The Cyclones are currently playing a schedule of out-of-conference games in its first year -- a requirement of all schools in their future club conference, the North Coast League.
Starting next season, however, the Cyclones will be a full member of the league, along with teams from communities like Medina, North Royalton, Wooster and Jackson.
Being affiliated with the Cyclones organization is also a plus for the program, Goehle said, as the Cyclones have a ready-made feeder system in place.
"With the Cyclones organization, we have a youth system in place where all of our kids will grow up in," Goehle said. "So having ready-made prospects for our team in the coming years will make this a perfect fit."
With students from as many as six different high schools making up the team, Goehle said that the Cyclones provide more for their student-athletes than just rink time.
"The players have come together really quickly," Goehle said. "They're from several different schools, but this team gives them a chance to forget their differences and form a bond with some people they never would have met otherwise."