The Hilliard club hockey team has played many important games against Newark the last few seasons, including the latest matchup.

The Hilliard club hockey team has played many important games against Newark the last few seasons, including the latest matchup.

The Wildcats hope a 4-1 win over their Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League rival on Dec. 19 sparks a turnaround to their season. The victory was their first in 40 days, a stretch in which they went 0-11-3, including a 1-all tie against the Generals on Nov. 14.

Last season, Hilliard went 2-3-2 against Newark, losing to the Generals in the Blue Jackets Cup final 2-0 after edging the Generals for the GCHSCHL regular-season title on a tiebreaker. The Wildcats, who also lost to Newark in the Blue Jackets Cup final in the 2011-12 season, exacted a measure of revenge by beating the Generals 4-3 in a state semifinal before losing to Medina 3-1 in the final.

"You could say we've had a couple tough losses lately," said forward Patrick Feldkamp, a Ready High School senior whose empty-net goal with 26 seconds left in the latest contest against Newark capped the Wildcats' three-goal third period. "We've had a lot of close losses and we've battled in every one of them, but I think this is the kind of win that can help us get ready to move on to bigger and better things."

The Wildcats improved to 3-11-5 overall and 3-2-5 in the GCHSCHL with a 10-0 win over Athens on Dec. 20. Hilliard also beat Athens on Nov. 9, winning 7-3.

Five losses have come against varsity programs -- Dublin Coffman (4-0 on Nov. 10), Dublin Jerome (6-0 on Dec. 8), Olentangy Liberty (5-0 on Dec. 1), St. Charles (7-1 on Nov. 16) and Upper Arlington (3-2 on Nov. 29).

But according to coach Wade Bartley, Hilliard's chances at success boil down to something simpler than dissecting its opponents.

"We haven't been shooting the puck very much. We've been averaging maybe 15 shots a game," Bartley said after the win over Newark. "We had maybe twice that tonight. We worked a lot in the last week on just shooting and going at the net.

"I think it's hard to say why, but maybe some kids think they should pass when they should shoot and shoot when they should pass. It happens like that. Sometimes you have to be selfish when you have the puck because you don't get it that often in a game. Get it, cross the blue line and shoot and see what can happen. That's what we've been pushing on them from the start of the year."

Through 18 games, 14 players for Hilliard had at least one goal. Feldkamp had a team-high six goals, forward Tate Bowen had five and forwards Kyle Antal and Scott Starbuck both had three.

Goaltender Simo Huhtanen, a Davidson sophomore, had 309 saves through 16 games. Relegated to backup status last year behind Mack Burton, who decided not to return for his senior season, Huhtanen prides himself on making difficult saves.

"When other teams are down deep in the crease, I don't get out of position," Huhtanen said. "I can make pad saves and saves people don't expect me to get."

Hilliard does not play again until Jan. 4, when it faces the PHA Prowlers.

"We've been trying to find the right combinations so far," Bartley said. "We like to switch things up early in the year, and then stick with things after the New Year."