Last season, Olentangy entered the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League Blue Jackets Cup as the fourth seed, but beat the top three seeds to win its first title.

Last season, Olentangy entered the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League Blue Jackets Cup as the fourth seed, but beat the top three seeds to win its first title.

But Olentangy will not repeat, as it now is an OHSAA-sanctioned team and plays in the Capital Hockey Conference. There now are six teams competing for the top spot. Past champions return, including Westerville, PRPC and Athens. Newark, Hilliard/Southwest and Northeast are aiming for their first Blue Jackets Cup.

Last season PRPC finished first in the GCHSCHL regular season at 17-3-5 with 39 points. The Prowlers were followed by Athens (15-5-4, 34), Newark (15-6-3, 33), Olentangy (12-11-1, 25), Westerville (8-13-3, 19), Hilliard/Southwest (5-14-5, 15) and Northeast (1-20-3, 5).

PRPC, Athens, Olentangy and Newark advanced to the Buckeye Cup state tournament. Athens earned the title with a 6-0 win over the Lakewood Rangers.

The consensus among players and coaches in the GCHSCHL is that PRPC is the favorite to win the league this year. PRPC has won the Blue Jackets Cup three times since it was introduced in 2002 and the Prowlers return a lot of players, including forward Adam McGrath. He tied for the league lead in goals last season with 30.

PRPC will be led by first-year coach Joe Tonello.

"My coaching staff and I have been asked to come to this program to maintain and return the team to the level of excellence it's been at," Tonello said. "This team has always won so there is a bit of pressure for me coming in here. It's a challenge but at the same time I love it.

"Around the league, we suffered our first loss to Newark and that's definitely a team to watch. Athens and Westerville are both teams that have been up top in the past and they should be good as well."

Westerville is coming off a somewhat disappointing season by its standards, but the Warcats had one of the youngest teams in the league. They are off to a good start with seven points through six games. With an extra year of experience as well as good chemistry, Westerville has goals of winning the Blue Jackets Cup and going far in the state tournament.

Athens is looking for another good season. The Bobcats, however, don't return many players from last year's team and will need to find more offense if they expect to challenge for the league title and defend their state title. They scored just three goals in their first three games, winning one and losing two.

"Athens may be in a rebuilding year," Newark coach Don Jennings said. "I don't think anybody knows what to expect from Athens."

It wouldn't be right to call Newark a wildcard, but it's been difficult to classify the Generals since they joined the GCHSCHL. Newark traditionally has been one of the better teams around the league but has yet to win the Blue Jackets Cup. But with 12 players back, the Generals have fielded not only the most physical team in the league but the most experienced as well.

"We score what we call Newark goals," Jennings said. "It's not always pretty, but created through hard work. We like to forecheck and be physical and I think those two things show what kind of team we are."

Hilliard/Southwest and Northeast finished sixth and seventh last year. Neither has had success in the league, but optimism for the Wildcats and Storm is running high.

Hilliard/Southwest is led by first-year coach Jim Jones and must replace 11 graduates from last year's team, including its leading scorer and top two goaltenders. But the Wildcats have nine players new to program and those players have helped increase the team speed.

"I think we can easily hang with the top teams," Jones said.

Northeast won just one league game in the last three seasons, but first-year coach Mark Fixari has boosted expectations and optimism. Fixari is dedicated to turning around a team that was considered the league's doormat and plans to do so by having the players focus on attitude and effort. The move has paid off as the Storm beat Hilliard/Southwest 4-2 in the opener Oct. 19.

Should Hilliard/Southwest and Northeast continue their upward trends, this could be the most competitive season in the GCHSCHL in the league's short history. A large factor in this happening is how the league continues to increase in talent every season. There is no longer a great divide between the clubs in the GCHSCHL and the teams in the CHC.