It's no secret that the club sport of ice hockey has been dwindling down to a state of near nonexistence in North County, but for one local program that trend has been put in reverse.
For Hazelwood West, a program that finished 6-14-3 last season, the 'Cats have seen a resurgence in both roster numbers and results to date during the early stages of the 2006-'07 season.
West's roster has risen to 18 and the Wildcats are off to an impressive 2-1 start, which includes a big win over a conference rival.
"This is definitely nice to see," West coach Mike McLaughlin said. "We've had some roller hockey kids come over in past years and I guess the word's gotten out that we know what we're doing.
"We lost 4-2 to Holt (on Nov. 10)," McLaughlin continued. "But then we beat Burroughs (3-2 on Nov. 13) and we even beat Parkway North (2-1 last Saturday). It's a real big thing for us. Parkway North is at the top of the league and to beat them shows we can play with people."
In the win, junior forward Nick Signorelli and junior defenseman Kyle Williams scored to propel West.
The duo leads a dozen returning players from last year's squad. Others who return to the Wildcats' lineup include junior defenseman Eric Belleville, senior defenseman Kyle Cizek, senior forward Tony Guinn, sophomore defenseman/goaltender Joshua Hackman, senior defenseman John Hubert, junior forward Daniel Knerr, sophomore forward Jaron Lutz, senior goaltender Ryan Mueller and sophomore backup goaltender Brandon Oberndorfer.
Some new faces in McLaughlin's lineup this year are senior defenseman Ryan Baker, sophomore forward Brett Adame and freshman defenseman Patrick Walsh.
Others who will see time on the ice for the 'Cats this season include Jacob Steen, Brandon Schneider, Curtis Ramshaw, Tim McCarthy and Brian Hollenberg.
With the team's early season success, McLaughlin is hopeful of a positive season.
"Maybe we can contend for the conference, I don't know," McLaughlin said. "I just want us to go out and play good hockey and get better as we go along. We've had some positive results so I hope we can keep it up."
While Hazelwood West is experiencing better than expected results, Pattonville coach Brad Schneider is hopeful his team can grasp some new material quickly, one season removed from a 10-8-3 campaign.
The Pirates are off to a 0-3 start this year with losses to Westminster, Francis Howell and St. Charles West and are averaging four goals per game.
"I have a new coach helping me," Schneider said. "He put in a new offensive system and it's just a matter of when we start clicking. My hope is that it's in game five rather than game 15. We'll see."
The Pirates do have some positive things to start the offense in the right direction as both of last year's top scorers return. Back are Jace Carlton (25 goals in 2005-06) and Kevin Null (23 goals).
"It's a good thing to have guys like them back," Schneider said. "Again, we just have to work hard as a team to understand this new system. When that happens, we'll be all right."
In addition to the top two, Schneider welcomes back four others who were on the roster last season. They are defensemen Joey Coffey, Gary Gerhardt and Jake Winkler as well as forward Derek Vogler.
There are plenty of new faces adorning the Pattonville sweater this season. They are freshmen Nick Dean, Caleb Null, Cory Brown, Dave LaBeaume and Alex Bacandreas.
Likewise, Schneider will welcome a pair of players who spent last season with other teams and they are Mike Thate, who played with McCluer North last season, and Steve Willett, a goaltender who was a pool pickup from Marquette.
"There's a lot of talent here," Schneider said. "I think it will make for some exciting hockey. We don't want them to ever quit. We want them to play hard for 45 minutes and we'll take what we get."
At Hazelwood Central, new coach Paul Stock is excited his Hawks are starting their second season in the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association of Illinois.
"We get to play at home, at the North County rink," Stock said. "I just can't tell you how big that is. The kids don't have to travel all over to play a home game and they get family and friends and students to come out and support them. It's great. The kids play a lot better when they have fans out there."
While Central is off to a 1-2 start after last season's 6-12-6 campaign, Stock feels that his team is putting in a total effort each night.
The Hawks opened the season Nov. 9 with a 3-1 loss to Belleville Althoff then fell 1-0 to Belleville West 1-0 Nov. 13 before defeating O'Fallon 3-1 on Nov. 16.
"We really don't have that one star some teams have," Stock said. "These kids are out there working as hard as they can and doing well. We have a core group of kids who are helping to lead us but we could always use more.
"We'd take any high school aged kid from our area who wants to play," Stock added. "Even if they attend a private school but live in Central's boundaries. We're always on the lookout for more."
As far as goals are concerned, Stock feels his team's main goal should be simple and straightforward.
"We have a good group of players who make a difference," Stock said. "I really think we can be about .500 this season. There's a good amount of parity here this season and I think we're right in the middle of that."