BELLEVILLE — In one of the few sports ventures combining teams made up of players from Belleville East and Belleville West High Schools, the BTHS Hockey program is fielding a combined squad in the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association this season.
The "BTHS" designation is for Belleville Township High School District 201, which oversees both schools. The high school hockey league is not sanctioned by the Illinois High School Association.
"Between both of us, it looked like East was short on the varsity side and West was short on the junior varsity side," said new BTHS coach Richard LeClaire, who has coached previously with Belleville East and Belleville West. "For the first time you'll have East and West fans in the stands rooting for the same team. Now that we've put the two together we've got pretty much enough for a varsity and junior varsity team."
BTHS Hockey opens the 2013-14 varsity season at 8 p.m. Thursday against Columbia at the Granite City Ice Rink.
"I coached at East for five years and now it's my second year with the West kids, so they feel a little bit more comfortable to have a coach that's come from both sides," LeClaire said. "For some of the kids at East and West, it's their senior year and you want to give them a good sendoff since they've been in the program for four years."
The team captain is center Michael McCrane and the assistant captains are defenseman Tyler Lauko and defenseman Clayton Forsyth. Anthony Pellegrino had 10 goals and 10 assists last season for Belleville East.
LeClaire has moved around the country while in the Air Force, but rarely has been too far away from a hockey rink.
"Being from Boston I grew up with a hockey stick in my hands," said LeClaire, in his seventh year of coaching in the metro-east that includes five years as an assistant and junior varsity coach at Belleville East and one year as the head coach at Belleville West. "Everywhere I got stationed, I played hockey."
There are several female players on the combined varsity-JV roster as well.
Asked to rate the team's talent level, LeClaire is encouraged by what he's seen. Belleville East was 8-10 last season and Belleville West was 2-15-1.
"I think we've got great talent, it's probably how they're going to mix once they get on the ice in game situations," LeClaire said. "I think most of them are going to produce and I think we're going to be a factor this year."
BTHS varsity roster
Autumn Bates (East), Tyler Brooks (East), Ross Burnworth (West), Drew Dohlke (East), Jordon Douglas (West), Joe Early (West), Nick Edwards (East), John Fink (East), Clayton Forsyth (East), Carson Gamboe (East), Logan Gore (East), Brendan Karwoski (East), Jack Langen (West), Tyler Lauko (West), Michael McCrane (West), Morgan McGinnis (East), Anthony Pellegrino (East), Jacob Scharf (West), Klayton Skaer (West), Alec Tilley (West), Camron Vielweber (West) and Andre Wilson (West).
About the MVCHA
The Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association provides players from area high schools a chance to compete in a non-sanctioned league.
The season begins Thursday and games are played at the East Alton Ice Arena and Granite City Ice Rink.
Teams in the league include Alton-Marquette, Belleville, Bethalto, Collinsville, East Alton-Wood River, Edwardsville (two teams), Freeburg-Waterloo, Granite City, Highland, Jerseyville, O'Fallon and Triad.