Nordonia hockey ready for challenge in higher division

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Coach Rich Cinalli talks to his players during a game against Brush last season. Nordonia will play in the Blue North Division this winter

The 2019-20 season was the best in school history for Nordonia hockey.

The Knights won the title in the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League's Blue South division, going 11-0-1 in division play and 13-15-1 overall.

The Knights participated in Baron Cup III and lost 8-3 to Orange in the first round of the playoffs.

As coach Rich Cinalli opens his seventh year in charge of the program, the Knights face a whole new challenge: For the first time in program history, Nordonia will not play in the GCHSHL's lowest division.

Nordonia will play in the GCHSHL's Blue North division this winter, along with Chagrin Falls, Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy, Canfield, Lakewood, Normandy, Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin and Mayfield.

Cinalli said his team realizes this will be a step up in competition, but the are ready for it.

"We want to be competitive in the Blue North division," Cinalli said. "One of our goals was always to move up a division. The team is definitely up for these challenges. Every game is going to be a tough game."

"The biggest change for us is knowing every game is going to be a battle," he added. "In previous years, there were games where you would have a chance to know you should win. Going into practice, you have to be a a little more focused now. The speed of the game and the discipline of the teams will be much greater."

The good news is the Knights have a veteran team this winter, despite the losses of Vinnie Costello, Josh Lockshine, Nate Juchnik to graduation.

The Knights will remain a forecheck-heavy squad, but Cinalli believes his team can player better going both ways.

"I think we’re going to be the better in the neutral zone this year," Cinalli said. "We’re still going to be a very aggressive. That's our identity. Before, we could impose our will on teams just by a dump-and-chase. We’re going to be play in the the middle of the rink now."

Cinalli said that COVID-19 disrupted much of the Knights' off-season workouts, but he believes his team is ready for the season.

Nordonia will have 20 players this winter, all but two of whom have previous skating experience.

"All of the freshman that came into program came with previous experience," Cinalli said. "You don't have to explain 'This is a blue line,' which is a new thing for us in some ways."

Cinalli's assistant coaches this season are Ben Soltis, Tommy Majkrzak and Mike Rudin.

The Knights' senior class has been the backbone of its rise and perhaps no player exemplifies that more than goaltender Tommy Lippincott.

After not playing hockey before high school, Lippincott has developed into one of the Blue Division's best goaltenders. He went 8-0-1 with four shutouts and a 1.087 goals-against average in division play last year.

"The progress that he has made over the last three years is incredible," Cinalli said. "The biggest thing is his confidence. He has the ability, but the confidence improvement, even from last year, is huge:"

Cinalli notes the Knights are still looking for a backup/future starting goaltender with Lippincott now a senior.

Senior captain Kenton Carrell is back for his fourth year as a starter after a first-team all-division season. He was Nordonia's second-leading scorer in division play with 11 goals and eight assists last year.

"Kenton is one of those players who can play anywhere," Cinalli sad. "He's a two-way defenseman."

Carrell will reunite with junior Josh Krysinski as Nordonia's top defensive pair. Krysinski plays more of an enforcer role for the nights, but has great ice vision.

Nordonia's second defensive pairing also is back, with junior Nate Owen and sophomore Dan Kimpton each showing a bit more physical maturity.

The Knights also could have third defensive pairing this winter, as first-year senior Brennan Schleman could parter with talented freshman Brett Rapp.

Nordonia's top forward line is back and it begins with the Knights' top scores: Senior right wing and assistant captain Carson Carrell.

The Blue North division player of the year last winter lead the Knights with 18 goals in division play, including the overtime goal again Mayfield which clinched the division title,

"He's our most consistent player," Cinalli said. "Coming up in into the Blue North division, he’s got to see the ice a little bit better."

Senior center and assistant captain Brian Sebatian led the Knights with 13 assists in division play. Sebastian should do much of the down-low work for the Knights.

Junior left wing Max Zuschin rounds out the top line. Cinalli affectionately calls Zuschin "a little ball of hate" for his aggressive play.

The decision to move senior Matt Monaco form defense to center last season pay huge dividends for the Knights, as he finished with 10 division goals.

Monaco will be back at center on Nordonia's second line with two experienced wingers in seniors Anthony Rock and Anthony Stutler.

Nordonia's third forward line could be all-freshman corps. Center Owen Tindall could be joined by Jacob Waite and Zach Scharkman, all of played well at the Bantam level.

However, juniors Xavier Tedor and Ashley Zelina are each pressing for playing time.

"We need those seniors to be where they need to be," Cinalli said "If those seniors step up, we could been the Blue North mix. Going .500 within the division is viable goal. Another goal is to be in the Baron Cup. We’ve seen these teams before."

Nordonia will host its annual Thanksgiving Tournament, beginning Nov. 27 at Gilmour Academy. The Knights will play NDCL Nov. 27 at 1:45 p.m., Westlake Nov. 28 at 11 a.m. and Aurora Nov. 28 at 4 p.m. The championship game will be Nov. 29 at noon.