With veteran defensemen and a group of promising underclassmen, the Gahanna Lincoln High School hockey team is looking to improve on last season.
The Lions are coming off a season in which they finished 7-29-1 overall and went 2-15 (4 points) in the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division to finish fifth, behind Upper Arlington (14-2-1, 29), Olentangy Orange (13-4, 26), Thomas Worthington (8-8-1, 17) and Olentangy (5-12, 10).
Gahanna beat Watterson 4-1 in the first round of the Blue Jackets Cup consolation tournament last year before losing to Olentangy 5-3 in the second round. The Lions then lost to top-seeded Dublin Jerome 8-1 in the second round of the district tournament after having a first-round bye.
Gahanna, which has moved to the CHC-Blue this season with Dublin Scioto, Olentangy, Watterson and Worthington Kilbourne, opened in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic held Nov. 23-25 at Chiller Dublin by going 3-1.
The Lions have 10 seniors, including a defense led by seniors Jack Jander and Colin Smallwood. The other defensemen are seniors Kyle Sloan, Glen Viers and Andy Yates and freshman Eric Ferrin.
Seniors Austin Hays, Casey Jolly and Jeremy Salls, juniors Evan Kraus and Mason Settle, sophomores Zach Chapman and Skyy Goebel and freshman Jake Chobany are among the forwards.
Senior Tyler Klopfer and junior Joe Slyman are vying for playing time at goaltender.
"Our teamwork has gone up so much from last year that we've actually gotten some comments from parents and people who have watched us," Jander said. "It's more of a family feel this year."
Several players on the roster helped the junior varsity win the single-division CHC regular-season title and tie for fifth in the eight-team j.v. state tournament last season.
"We do have a lot of seniors this year, along with a lot of good, younger players and guys who were (junior varsity) players last year," Smallwood said. "Last year we didn't do so well on varsity, but the j.v. team came out ranked really high in the state."
Last season, Hays led the Lions in goals (15), assists (12) and points (27), Kraus had 19 points (14 goals, 5 assists), Goebel had 15 points and Jander had 13 points.
Gahanna lost seven players from a year ago to graduation, including forward Sean Moser, who was third on the team with 18 points (10 goals, 8 assists).
The Lions also lost their starting goalie, Nick Kasubinski, who posted a 4.43 goals-against average and an .874 save percentage last season but did not return for his senior season.
In the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic, Gahanna defeated Oregon Clay 8-0 and Kilbourne 6-5 on Nov. 23 and lost to Cincinnati St. Xavier 5-2 on Nov. 24 before beating Olentangy 9-0 on Nov. 25.
"The younger kids are really stepping up and becoming players," second-year coach J.J. Stallsworth said. "There's really starting to be a boom with (the younger players).
"One of our goaltenders and five of the six defensemen are seniors, so we're going to be pretty solid defensively. All of them move the puck very well. Offensively, we have some good, young skilled guys and some pretty good leadership. We've got pretty good balance."