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One of the most overlooked jobs of excellent area high school coaching in recent years certainly was turned in by John Sheridan, Aurora High School ice hockey coach, and his enthusiastic, knowledgeable assistants.
The Greenmen's 2013-14 season goes much deeper than their 1-19 record.
"You can pick up the Aurora Advocate [to read a game story during the season] and say, 'They're terrible,' but you have to know the whole story," he said. "We weren't really concerned this year with how many games we won. It was about how our players improved week by week and month by month. We made a lot of progress."
Sheridan vividly remembered telling his team, "We're not moving into a house; we're building one, board by board." That describes Aurora's hockey campaign perfectly. It was symbolic of what Sheridan called Aurora's "Hockey 101" season.
Sheridan's team was faced with a severe manpower shortage. There were only eight to 10 players on the team last fall. Nearby Chagrin Falls High School had already dropped its hockey program, and Sheridan did not want that to happen in Aurora.
"Like many programs, there were not enough interested people," he said. "So we had to almost start from scratch."
SHERIDAN and his talented group of assistant and volunteer coaches -- Ron Altmann, Kevin Carroll, Brent Flanik, Joseph Lawrie and Doug Vermillion -- sought out players, some who had never played the game before, and taught them the basics.
"One person isn't going to turn this program around by himself," said Sheridan, praising his assistants.
The Greenmen finished the season with 17 players. "and the majority of them are coming back next season," Sheridan said. "Our goal is to start next season with at least 20 players, many of whom will have experience and many who will work in the off-season."
At Aurora, there are no freshman or junior varsity hockey teams, so players are thrown into the fire, so to speak, at the varsity level.
"We had a lot of beginners," he said. "We were young and inexperienced. We had to take this season and really drive a lot home -- learning how to play and learning basic fundamentals. We had to break in two new goalies and three new defensemen. It was a challenge."
It was, Sheridan believes, the first step in pointing the program in the right direction. It took a lot of patience on everyone's part, but Sheridan and his coaches were determined to make it work.
"It was essentially a 3 1/2-month hockey school with numerous film sessions," he said. "Hockey is not the easiest game to learn. In grades 9-10, they were doing things on the ice that you wish they were doing in grades 5-6. We had to keep focused on just getting better. We had to be positive and patient. Those were the two key words."
THE ASSISTANT coaches played a big role. Lawrie, for example, kept mini-biographies on each players' strengths and weaknesses from day one until the end of the season. Each coach brought his own strengths, and all brought dedication. "Our film sessions were like National Hockey League film sessions," Sheridan said.
The coaches' approach brought results.
Around Thanksgiving, Canfield thrashed Aurora, 8-3, in a scrimmage. Two months later, Aurora tripped Canfield, 4-2, for its only victory. One week later, Aurora nearly toppled Canfield again, losing 3-2 in overtime.
Early in the season, Twinsburg walloped Aurora, but late in the season, Twinsburg won just 3-0, including an empty-net goal late in the contest after the Greenmen pulled their goalie for an extra attacker.
Clearly, the young Greenmen were learning and improving.
"We could have had a few more wins, and they'll come," Sheridan said.
There are positive signs off the ice, too. Sheridan said the unity on this team was "the best I've seen in my 10 years [of coaching]."
Sheridan said some of the team's goals were "to get together and have fun -- and we did -- and keep them interested for next season. Despite the record, players would say, 'I had a blast this year.' That puts an optimistic spark into the future."
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187
Twitter: Mike Lesko@MikeLesko_RPC