Published in The News-Herald
January 14, 2019
In an era during which more players are choosing the exit ramp away from high school hockey, Val Carriero instead saw a route he wanted to pursue.
He’s been in the fast lane since – and by extension, so has Kenston.
The standout junior forward is in the midst of another prolific campaign with 44 goals and 29 assists for 73 points, far and away the leading scorer in The News-Herald coverage area.
On Jan. 6, Carriero unleashed a snappy wrister from the top of his zone, a highlight-reel goal for a 2-1 overtime victory over Strongsville at The Pond.
A two-goal evening, including the game-winner, is obviously integral to a cause. But it may have been the sequence preceding the goal that was another example as to why Carriero has endeared himself to his teammates and to Coach Tom Fritsche over the last two seasons.
Earlier in the OT, Carriero was battling for a puck along the boards in his offensive zone when he was checked from behind. He got up slowly, motioning that he had some discomfort in the back of his neck, although no penalty was called.
Moments later, Carriero was dealing out the best kind of retort as far as the Bombers were concerned, giving the visiting Mustangs a long bus ride home late on a Sunday night.
“He’s been playing with a pulled groin and was sick for this weekend,” Fritsche said after that win. “So he’s just battling through it.
“In overtime, I tried to take him off, and he shook me off. I thought I was a Major League Baseball pitcher and the catcher, shaking him off. That’s what I felt like. But I believe he is the best player in the league. So if he thinks he can stay on the ice, I’m going to let him stay on the ice. And what do you know? He scored.”
Carriero played in the Barons’ youth organization, including for bantams and on its 15-and-under team during what would have been his freshman year of high school hockey. Over those three seasons, Carriero appeared in 45 games, with 19 goals and nine assists.
Last year as a sophomore, in his high school hockey debut, Carriero scored 33 goals and had 35 assists for 68 points. He was a first-team Red Division and second-team Red North honoree. Carriero was also a 2018 first-team News-Herald all-star, the lone sophomore on that level of the team.
“I mean, just the community, the people,” Carriero said of his motivation to play for Kenston. “Most of my friends skated here. I played AAA for god knows how long, and I was just done with it. I just wanted to play high school.
“Just coming back and playing around my friends, and really showing what I’ve got around this community and making people love me, it’s like how I play.”
Kenston is 17-5 overall and has gone 7-2 since Dec. 21, including a 6-2 win over Cleveland Heights on Jan. 12 in which Carriero recorded five points. The Bombers were 26-8-1 last winter.
Over the last two seasons, Kenston has scored 267 goals through Jan. 12. Carriero has scored or assisted on 141 of those goals, nearly 53 percent of that output.
His mantra for setting a tone for a prolific team in the offensive zone has been simple:
“Grinding. Grinding, grinding, grinding,” Carriero said. “Skating after the puck. Just leading. Just after the puck, all the time.
“The chemistry is at the top, at the top that it could be. We’re at the point where we know where each other are at. And we know we’ve got this.”
Carriero also lauds the impact Fritsche, the former Ohio State and Monsters forward, has had on his development as a player. Fritsche was a second-round pick by the Avalanche in the 2005 NHL draft.
“He knows what he’s talking about,” Carriero said. “When he tells me to do something, I’ll listen.
“He knows hockey in and out, and he’s great having as a coach.”
And for Carriero, it’s great being home, especially at a time when Kenston could make a Baron Cup I impact. With the notable exception of Mentor, which is 7-0-1 in league play, parity has reigned in the early going in the GCHSHL Red Division to a large extent with its new-look North East and Central.
That parity has not been lost on Carriero, and he’s hopeful the Bombers may be able to emerge from a potentially tight pack to hoist some hardware on the big ice at Brooklyn when it’s all said and done.
It’s part of the reason, after all, he chose this route, when others are not necessarily doing so.
“I mean, it’s wild,” Carriero said of the Red parity. “The inconsistency is crazy.
“We’re just trying to keep going, stay consistent against these teams and keep it going. Yeah, we’re looking forward to (Baron Cup I).”