University’s Sam Wade celebrates a goal during the Preppers’ 4-1 semifinal win over Shaker Heights on Feb. 26 at FirstEnergy Stadium. (Brian Fisher – for The News-Herald)
Fall, let alone winter, is still around the proverbial corner.
But some massive high school hockey news has dropped anyway.
Aug. 8 in a news release, the formation of a new eight-team statewide high school hockey league was announced.
The Greater Ohio Hockey League will begin play in the upcoming 2023-24 season in makeshift fashion before an intended “full” launch in 2024-25.
The league will consist of News-Herald coverage area powerhouses University and Gilmour, along with St. Edward and St. Ignatius from Greater Cleveland. The Holy War counterparts had departed the Great Lakes Hockey League in recent years in favor of independent status, so this will mark a return to league play for the Eagles and Wildcats.
Also in the league will be Liberty, Upper Arlington, Toledo St. Francis and Toledo St. John’s.
“Borne from a desire among a group of Ohio high schools to create a strong competitive league to foster growth, eight Ohio high schools proudly announce their intention to play in the newly formed Greater Ohio Hockey League (GOHL),” the statement read in part.
There have seemingly been whispers of some iteration of a “freeway conference” in high school hockey for more than 20 years, but those whispers never came to fruition. Until now.
“A lot of us play together in tournaments throughout the year, so we see a lot of these teams that are going to be in the league during the year at these tournaments,” US coach Andy Gerow said. “And I think with Ignatius and Eds not being in a league, having been in conversations with them being open to it. Then I think different reasons for different areas.
“As some of us here in Cleveland maybe lose teams in our league, it was just kind of I guess all of the right pieces coming together at the right time.”
Gerow explained, with seasons ending but scheduling picking up for the next season almost immediately in March, there’s no ideal window to have conversations about league alignment, particular an Ohio-wide plan this bold, and following through on it.
“The way we were able to put our minds together, I guess, just allowed it to happen,” Gerow said.
Gilmour coach John Malloy has been a proponent of the “freeway conference” concept over the years, including between when the Lancers departed the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League and operated as an independent before becoming an inaugural member of the Great Lakes Hockey League.
“I think what may have happened, and this is my musing of it, is when you have teams like St. Ignatius and St. Edward, who for the last couple years have been playing independent without a league, that’s difficult under the state rules in terms of limiting games,” Malloy said. “When you play independent, it can become somewhat monotonous, in the sense that you are playing games that might be good games, but they don’t have any meaning.
“I think what you miss out on is that competition that comes from being in a league. I know that was one of the things that drove me back to a league.”
In the release, it was unveiled the league members will play each other once per season. After league play and subsequent seeding from that, a league championship tournament will be held. The site of that tournament will rotate between the Cleveland, Columbus and Toledo areas. The 2024 tournament will be hosted in Cleveland.
This season, teams if applicable will play in their current leagues in addition to the GOHL. For Gilmour and US, that’s the GLHL. St. Francis and St. John’s are in the Northwest Hockey Conference, and Liberty and Upper Arlington are in the Capital Hockey Conference.
“That has worked out very well for us,” Malloy said of the GLHL.
All eight schools, the statement noted, have the option to continue to play in their current leagues as well as the GOHL.
Gerow finds the statewide caliber of the new league among its top appeals.
“For my program, that’s what we’re always looking to do,” Gerow said. “We’re trying to play the best competition we can throughout the season so we can consistently play at that high caliber. That’s going to best prepare us for February and March.”
Gerow said the Preppers have given notice to the GLHL that they intend to leave that league after this coming season and play exclusively in the GOHL.
“We are kind of planning to exit the GLHL after this season,” Gerow said. “I think different schools are kind of making their decisions, and I don’t think some of them have made their decisions what they’re going to do. I know that’s what we’re going to do.”
Malloy confirmed the Lancers are open to remaining in both leagues.
“We’ll see how it works out,” Malloy said. “I think there are some challenges. That’s why we’re in both leagues. We’re undecided what’s going to happen. We were able to work it out this year so that we could be in both leagues.
“The Great Lakes Hockey League has been very good to us. We had made a commitment, and so we’re sticking with that through this year. Hopefully we’ll get more clarification for what things look like for both leagues, because we can’t have a Great Lakes Hockey League if we lose too many teams.”
For an example of the makeshift nature of this coming season, Gerow cited the Dec. 22 game against Gilmour. That will be a game that counts in the GLHL and the GOHL standings.
There are also plans for a Varsity B/JV division of the GOHL, but a full schedule for that may not be feasible until 2024-25.
“I guess we’re playing more of a waiting game, but we’re excited,” Malloy said. “For us, we’re going to be in two leagues. We’re going to have two playoffs, as well as the state tournament. I think it’s definitely a win-win for us.”