Wildcats club team racking up victories
Converting four forwards into defensemen, not to mention starting a sophomore goaltender, has not fazed Hilliard club hockey coach Wade Bartley or his team this season.
“From the start we knew they were strong skaters and good listeners,” Bartley said of senior Tyler Hissrich and juniors Alex Campbell, Landon Gruszewski and Gus Oberdick. “The whole experience with them back there has been great. They’re a very positive group of kids eager to learn everything we’re teaching. The results have shown. They play confident, they play smart and they play hard.”
That somewhat makeshift group, combined with sophomore goalie Mack Burton, has become the driving force behind nine shutout victories and records of 21-2 overall and 11-1 in the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League. Hilliard won eight consecutive games to open the season, then reeled off 11 wins in a row after a 2-0 loss at league foe Newark on Nov. 17.
Junior E.J. Graf, a three-year starter and the Wildcats’ only returning defenseman, said there were few growing plans moving the four forwards to defense.
“Those guys caught up right away,” Graf said. “That’s a huge change from what they were doing before. It’s sort of a different mindset. But they are fast and we’ve had good coaching. So many of those guys play travel hockey, too, and it all fell right into place. There wasn’t much I had to do to help them.”
The difference in the loss to Newark was a nine-second span in which Burton allowed both goals.
Hilliard got its revenge with a 3-2 victory on Dec. 4. The teams meet again Jan. 19 in Newark and Feb. 5 at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.
The Wildcats didn’t lose again until the 44 Division championship game of the Adam Allgeyer Memorial Tournament on Dec. 11, when North Royalton won 3-2 in a shootout in which Burton stopped four of five shots.
“He has quick legs and a very good sense of what the shooter is going to do,” Bartley said of Burton, who split time with Gage Robinson — who no longer is with the team — for the first week of the season. “There are some games where he might face a lot of shots, then others where he doesn’t. I think he’s at his best when he gets a lot of shots coming his way. It’s tough as heck to deke him out. He’s so quick side-to-side.”
Burton, a goalie since third grade, credits a defense he says has been practically seamless the entire year.
“Since a lot of those guys are natural forwards, they’re able to look up the ice and make some pretty nice passes,” Burton said. “It helps me out a lot when they’re clicking. They’ve helped me focus, and that’s when I play my best. I’ve worked on my angle play, too, trying to not get shots snuck past me.”
The Wildcats don’t play again until Jan. 8, when they travel to northwest Ohio to play Fremont and Pemberville Eastwood at Fremont Recreation Center.
Junior forward Kyle Majher leads the Wildcats with 29 goals, followed by senior forward Drew Kennedy with 17.
“I think we’re proving we can play with any team at any high school level, both with the way we’ve played defensively and the fact that we have four solid lines,” Bartley said.