Second-year coach Rob Sangster sat stunned in the media room March 7 at Nationwide Arena, searching for words to describe his St. Charles Preparatory School hockey team's 3-1 loss to Sylvania Northview in a state semifinal.
The Cardinals outshot Northview 21-16 and did not have a penalty until 28.4 seconds were left in the game.
"It wasn't like (the Wildcats) had 30 or 40 shots," said Sangster, whose team finished 34-4-2 overall. "They had a couple of opportunities and they made the best of them."
The loss continued the struggles at state for central Ohio teams, which are 0-8 in semifinals since 2003 when the Central/Southwest District was granted a state berth.
After a scoreless first period, Northview's Cody Estrel scored 37 seconds into the second to give the Wildcats the lead for good.
"That (first Northview goal) scared me because we just weren't burying our chances," said senior forward Daniel Schirtzinger, who scored the Cardinals' goal with 1:34 to play, with senior defenseman Patrick Brennan and junior forward Clayton Klosz getting assists. "It just didn't seem like we were ready for it.
"Personally, I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be. There were a lot of nerves on our team, and it showed throughout the game, even in the third when we had been playing for 45 minutes.
There were people still missing pucks and (it was) bouncing over their stick, and we were missing hits. I just think we played a very nervous game."
The Cardinals defeated Northview 5-2 on Dec. 28 when the Wildcats were playing without three starters in forward Jacob Koback, defenseman Kooper Carter and goaltender David Marsh, who had 20 saves in the state semifinal.
"Those players made a big difference because they were on the top two lines," said senior goalie Alex Ward, who had 13 saves for the Cardinals in the semifinal. "They seemed to be a much different team."
Caleb Rau scored two goals for Northview, which finished 17-13-2 after tying Cleveland St. Ignatius at 1 on March 8 in the longest state final in OHSAA history. The teams went seven overtimes before the game was stopped for player safety, according to the OHSAA.
St. Charles had a record-setting season, winning its first district and Blue Jackets Cup titles.
In the district tournament, the top-seeded Cardinals defeated 23rd-seeded Kettering Alter 12-0 on Feb. 15, 10th-seeded Cincinnati Moeller 8-1 on Feb. 22, fourth-seeded Upper Arlington 3-1 in a semifinal Feb. 23 and second-seeded Olentangy Orange 3-1 in the final March. 1.
St. Charles was seeded fifth in the Blue Jackets Cup and defeated fourth-seeded Dublin Coffman 5-0 on Feb. 6, top-seeded Orange 3-2 in overtime Feb. 7 and second-seeded Dublin Jerome 2-1 in the final Feb. 9.
The Cardinals won the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division at 14-2 (28 points), which advances them to the CHC-Red next season with Coffman, Jerome, Olentangy Liberty and Orange, while Moeller drops to the CHC-White.
UA was second (10-3-2-1, 23) in the CHC-White, followed by DeSales (8-8, 16) and Gahanna (7-9, 14).
The Cardinals had 13 seniors, including forward Ryan Cleary (12 goals, 14 assists in CHC games), forward Logan Rupert (9 assists), Schirtzinger (16 assists), forward Mitch Wade (9 goals), Ward (.941 save percentage) and forward Jacob Weikert (11 goals, 19 assists).
Senior defenseman Ryan Brady and Ward were first-team all-league and Cleary was second-team all-league. Brady, Cleary and Ward were named to the Ohio Senior South/West all-star team with senior defenseman Alec Organ and Schirtzinger.
Key players expected to return are sophomore forward Aaron Bowman, junior defenseman Nicolas Carducci, junior forward Jack Cleary (9 goals, 15 assists), sophomore defenseman Sean Gavin, Klosz (17 goals, 10 assists) and sophomore goalie Aaron Roe (.968 save percentage).
"It's sad because this was such a super group of guys," said Sangster, whose team had won 17 consecutive games entering the state semifinal. "I just feel terrible that it had to be (the state semifinal) that they didn't get into the flow of the game and put the puck in the net. They had good intentions, it just didn't work out. It breaks my heart to see their disappointment and tears."
Basketball team falls to Gahanna
The basketball team finished 13-10 overall, losing to second-seeded Gahanna 53-33 in a Division I district semifinal March 4 at Marysville.
It was the program's first appearance in a Division I district semifinal. In 2001, the Cardinals lost to Licking Valley 79-75 in a district semifinal in their last season in Division II.
The Cardinals trailed 23-20 at halftime but scored only 13 points in the second half. Senior forward Sean Hennessey (honorable mention all-district) scored 14 points with four 3-pointers and senior point guard Matt Hennessey added nine points. They were two of six seniors.
St. Charles, the 27th seed, opened the tournament with road wins over 14th-seeded Thomas Worthington (37-35 on Feb. 22) and 19th-seeded Groveport (66-53 on Feb. 28).
The Cardinals tied Hartley and Ready for second (4-4) in the CCL behind Watterson (8-0) and ahead of DeSales (0-8).
Expected to return are juniors David Aslaner (guard), Jack Billman (guard), Chris Evans (forward) and Nick Pappa (guard) and sophomores Zach Donley (forward), Peter Levy (guard), Otis Smith (guard) and John Wallace (guard). Junior point guard NiQuille Bell, who was first-team all-league last year, missed the season with a broken leg suffered playing football.
The Cardinals were led by fifth-year coach Jacob Daniel.