Gahanna Lincoln High School hockey coach J.J. Stallsworth figured his team's defensive corps, led by five seniors, would be its strength this winter.
The fact that senior Tyler Klopfer has filled in admirably at goaltender only has increased that asset, Stallsworth said.
After finishing 7-29-1 a year ago, the Lions have been one of the area's bigger surprises thus far. They are 8-5-1-2 overall and 3-3-0-2 in the Capital Hockey Conference-Blue Division heading into their game Friday, Jan. 11, against Worthington Kilbourne at Chiller North.
The Lions had been scheduled to play Beavercreek on Jan. 8 at Nationwide Arena before the Blue Jackets played Winnipeg that night, but the game was canceled because of the NHL lockout.
"We're better than we were last year," Klopfer said. "This is my first year playing goaltender for the varsity team and we're playing a lot better and passing it more. I play goalie, so my job is keeping them together and stopping pucks. Our defense is pretty good."
Although Gahanna's last game was an 8-0 loss to Olentangy Liberty on Dec. 30, Klopfer posted a shutout in a 9-0 win over Olentangy on Nov. 25 and has recorded all eight of the Lions' wins.
Klopfer, who was third on the junior varsity's depth chart as a freshman before gradually moving into a key role this year, has a 2.79 goals-against average and an .890 save percentage.
Among the Lions' defensemen are seniors Jack Jander, Kyle Sloan, Colin Smallwood, Glen Viers and Andy Yates.
"Our defense has been pretty solid," Stallsworth said. "Tyler has played fantastic so far, which has been big. The biggest change this year has been in our goaltending. Tyler has been playing out of his mind. I don't know if it's just him being a senior, but he's just made some really big saves.
"We've got eight freshmen and basically all the rest of them are seniors. A lot of the older guys have been taking the younger guys under their wings. The older guys are feeding off their energy. It's been a really good mix of kids."
Boys basketball team endures rough stretch
The boys basketball team opened with four consecutive victories, including a 68-57 win over host Newark on Dec. 14.
The Lions split their next four games, however, because of off-court issues.
Juniors Javon Bess and Manny Powell did not play during a 40-38 loss to Reynoldsburg on Dec. 18 because of a disciplinary issue. Both returned for a 69-34 win over Lancaster on Dec. 21, and Bess had 18 points in support of a 24-point performance by senior Aaron Jackson in a 77-72 win over Independence on Dec. 28.
Senior Ronnie Stokes Jr. had 22 points and Bess scored 11 of his 20 points during the fourth quarter Jan. 4 against Grove City, but the Lions were short-handed again and lost 63-60.
Jackson, Powell and senior Troy Mundy were not in uniform against Grove City because of a disciplinary issue, according to coach Tony Staib.
Gahanna was 6-2 overall and 3-2 in the OCC-Ohio Division before playing Pickerington North on Jan. 8. The Lions play host to defending Division I state champion Pickerington Central on Friday, Jan. 11.
The game against Central will complete the first round of the OCC-Ohio schedule for the Lions.
Wrestling team returns to mat
The wrestling team will return to action after a nearly two-week hiatus when it competes Thursday, Jan. 10, against host Groveport and Reynoldsburg in a pair of OCC-Ohio duals. The Lions then compete Friday, Jan. 11, and Saturday, Jan. 12, in the Marion County Invitational.
Gahanna opened its OCC-Ohio schedule with a 43-30 loss to Pickerington Central on Dec. 20.
The Lions scored 49.5 points in the Brecksville Holiday Tournament held Dec. 28 and 29 to finish 32nd behind champion and host Brecksville-Broadview Heights (191.5) as 45 teams scored.
Senior Kasee McDougle was runner-up at 132 pounds but his twin brother, Drew, had to forfeit his second-round match at 138 for medical reasons.
Winning at least one match in the event were Timmy Miller (145), Zach Holloway (160), Malik Williams (195), Granyl Smith (220) and Nick Nader (heavyweight).