Boardman native Bernie Kosar donated $2,500 to promote hockey in his hometown.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
BOARDMAN -- It might not be the Stanley Cup. But for the four teams in the Northeast Ohio High School Hockey Association, it's close.
The Commissioner's Cup is the ultimate prize, the reward for the team that maintains the most consistency throughout the three-month season, which begins tonight at the Ice Zone.
Defending champion Boardman, Mooney-Ursuline and Poland will compete with first-year league member North Canton Hoover for bragging rights.
Boardman and Poland open the season tonight at 6:45.
"The most important thing I've seen is nobody sticks out," said first-year commissioner Lou Cerimele. "The league is becoming very equal. It seems some of the other schools that didn't have enough players now have enough."
The league formed in 1997 with charter members Boardman, Mooney-Ursuline, Poland, Canfield and Mohawk (Pa.).
But Canfield became a member of the Ohio High School Athletic Association -- the only Mahoning Valley school to do so in hockey -- and Mohawk was replaced by Hoover.
Development: The league, which includes freshman competition, continues to develop players, many of whom are born into the system from various youth leagues, Cerimele said.
"We have recreation and in-house leagues that play on the weekends here," he said. "Youngstown has a youth hockey team that travels.
"If their high school doesn't have hockey, we want them to come and play for one of our high schools."
Cerimele hopes the league will one day develop enough talent to attract the attention of college scouts.
"My goal is to see where we are as far as their level of talent compared to the country," he said. "We haven't pushed to have anybody get a scholarship for hockey yet, but I think we're on our way."
Still, there is an opportunity for the high school players to compete at a higher level.
"If they're staying in town, they play for Youngstown State," Cerimele said of the Penguins' club team. "These kids you're seeing now more than likely will be going there."
The league's rules were gathered from three other leagues -- two in Pennsylvania and one in Cleveland. They are carried out by OHSAA-licensed referees and enforced by Cerimele.
"The first three years we had rules we wrote but were never enforced," Cerimele said. "So they wanted somebody to take control and enforce the rules.
No fights: "We do have a clean league," he added. "We will not tolerate fighting. Hockey is known to a lot of people as a lot of fighting, and I will be very strict on that."
One main issue of any hockey league is covering the expenses the sport demands.
The Northeast Ohio league benefits from sponsors, fund-raisers and even gifts from Mahoning Valley natives.
Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar of Boardman contributed $2,500 to the Ice Zone for ice time costs, Cerimele said.
Part-owner of the NHL's Florida Panthers, Kosar wanted to contribute to the sport's progression in his hometown.
"The guys just want to play hockey," Cerimele said. "They can't get enough of it. These kids on every team would play seven nights a week if they could."