Dublin Jerome High School hockey coach Pat Murphy said the sting of his team's 4-3 overtime loss to Olentangy Liberty in the district final March 2 at OhioHealth Ice Haus may take awhile to subside.
Despite the loss, Murphy believes the season was a success, as the Celtics went 27-9-3 overall, won their second consecutive Blue Jackets Cup championship and reached the district final for the third year in a row.
Jerome still is looking for its first district championship, however. In its previous two district final appearances, it lost to Liberty 3-2 in double overtime in 2011 and lost to Olentangy Orange 3-2 in quadruple overtime last season.
"This one is going to hurt for a while, but in the long run, it won't take away from the great season we had," Murphy said. "We've been right there with the top teams in the state the past three years and we just haven't been able to break through and win our district yet. It's hard to lose in overtime here three years in a row, but we understand that you have to have a great season to get to this point, and we definitely had another great season when you look at the big picture."
Jerome finished second in the Capital Hockey Conference-Red Division at 13-2-2 (28 points), behind Liberty (32, 15-0-1-1) and ahead of Cincinnati Moeller (23, 11-5-0-1), Coffman (20, 10-7) and Upper Arlington (16, 7-8-1-1).
The Celtics won their sixth Blue Jackets Cup title in eight years, defeating DeSales 4-1 on Feb. 7, Moeller 5-2 in a semifinal Feb. 8 and Olentangy Orange 2-0 in the final Feb. 10.
"Winning the Blue Jackets Cup was probably our biggest highlight and it was gratifying to beat Orange in the final since they knocked us out of the (district) tournament last year," Murphy said.
The Celtics were seeded third in the district tournament and had a first-round bye. They defeated 16th-seeded Kettering Alter 8-0 in the second round Feb. 17, 10th-seeded DeSales 5-0 in the third round Feb. 23 and second-seeded Orange 2-1 in a semifinal Feb. 24 before falling to top-seeded Liberty.
"Making it back to the district final for a third year in a row was a highlight because we didn't want Orange to end our season again," Murphy said. "We just need to find a way to break through the district tournament in the future."
The Celtics lose eight seniors, including forwards James Eastep (29 goals, 20 assists), Alex Cathis (19 goals, 29 assists) and Jeff Davison (13 goals, 15 assists) and defensemen Eric Brooks (1 goal, 4 assists), Sam Franklin (9 goals, 16 assists), Luke Pitroff (1 goal, 10 assists) and Luke Potter (3 goals, 14 assists).
Cathis and Franklin were named first-team all-CHC and Eastep and Potter were second-team all-CHC. Eastep finished as Jerome's career leader in games played (148), goals (104), points (166) and plus-minus rating (plus-160).
Among the expected returnees are sophomore forwards Chris Cathis (18 goals, 16 assists) and Coleman Mitchell (11 goals, 10 assists), junior forwards Lucas Brush (16 goals, 12 assists) and Chase Rose (15 goals, 12 assists), junior goaltender Shawn Ewert and sophomore goalie Connor Willette.
Willette had a 16-5 record with a 1.48 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage and was second-team all-CHC. Ewert went 11-5 with a 1.65 GAA and an .877 save percentage.
"James Eastep and Alex Cathis led the charge up front and our defensemen were the backbone of our team all year," Murphy said. "Our (junior varsity) team had a really good year and we have some quality kids coming up, so our future's still bright."
Irish struggled to find ways to win
Scioto finished 4-28 overall and placed fifth (0, 0-17) in the CHC-Blue, behind Gahanna (19, 8-6-1-2), Worthington Kilbourne (15, 7-9-1), Watterson (9, 4-12-0-1) and Olentangy (6, 3-14).
The Irish lost to Kilbourne 9-3 in the first round of the Blue Jackets Cup consolation tournament and, seeded 22nd, lost to DeSales 12-0 in the first round of the district tournament.
"While (sophomore goalie) Christian Rice was out most of the year recovering from shoulder surgery, (senior) Fletcher Wentworth made the unselfish move of volunteering to play goal for the first time and he developed into a decent goalie for us," coach Chad Ellis said. "... We had a short bench most of the year and we got fatigued in some games, but the kids played hard all season."
The Irish lose three seniors in Wentworth and forwards Jake Harter and Zach Vallette (30 goals, 18 assists).
Vallette, who was first-team all-CHC, finished as Scioto's career leader in assists (102) and points (220) and ranks second in career goals (118) behind 2007 graduate Jerry Staley (120).
"Zach is one of our all-time great players," Ellis said. "Jake really stepped up for us and became a key forward, and Fletcher stepped up to become our goalie."
Among those expected to return are Rice (1-4, 3.90 GAA, .901 save percentage), junior defenseman Scott Carter (13 goals, 7 assists) and sophomore defenseman Cody Rice (2 goals, 5 assists).
"We should have 11 guys coming back to lead next year's team, and we're looking at bringing in a big freshman class, which would be a big help," Ellis said.
Shamrocks finish with .500 record
Coffman finished 16-16 overall and placed fourth in the CHC-Red.
The Shamrocks lost to Orange 3-1 in the first round of the Blue Jackets Cup on Feb. 7 and were seeded seventh in the district tournament. They had a first-round bye and beat 15th-seeded Centerville 9-1 in the second round before losing to Orange 3-2 in the third round Feb. 23.
"Our players now understand the style we want to play and have bought into our system, but a system doesn't win you hockey games," coach Eric Park said. "We didn't have a dominant player, so we needed to be structured on the ice and have a good work ethic. Our work ethic was sporadic this year. We didn't have 20 guys going hard all at once until the end of the year when we outshot Orange 37-17 in the district tournament. If we had that same work ethic all season, more goals would've went in and we would've won more games."
The Shamrocks lose five seniors, including forwards Ian Flinders (18 goals, 14 assists), Chris DiBiase (11 goals, 11 assists) and Gunner Gruehl (12 goals, 5 assists).
Among those expected back are sophomore forwards Austen Hayden (5 goals, 6 assists), Mark Heneman (15 goals, 6 assists), Matt King (8 goals, 19 assists), J.T. Latshaw (3 goals, 11 assists) and Jason Strine (8 goals, 4 assists), sophomore defenseman Thomas Tate (11 goals, 7 assists) and freshman goalie Grant Powell (9-14, 3.00 GAA, .892 save percentage).
"There was a lot of high-end skill in our senior class, but we have a good goalie coming back and we have a big junior class that is looking to become bigger producers and leaders," Park said. "I'm already looking forward to next year."