With four regular-season games remaining, the Hilliard club hockey team still has time to complete quite a turnaround from the first month of the season.
The Wildcats were 1-11-5 overall and 1-2-5 in the Greater Columbus High School Hockey League before beating Newark 4-1 on Dec. 19. The win over the Generals began a nine-game stretch in which Hilliard went 6-1-2.
The Wildcats are 7-13-9 overall and 5-3-8 in the GCHSCHL entering their fourth matchup with Newark on Saturday, Feb. 1, at Chiller Dublin. The teams played to a 1-all tie on Nov. 14 and a 2-all tie on Jan. 25.
"We haven't been turning the puck over in our defensive zone nearly as much," said forward Patrick Feldkamp, a senior at Ready High School. "In that respect, we're giving ourselves a lot more chances (offensively) than we were getting early in the season when we had problems turning over the puck. And on offense, we're working together a lot better."
Feldkamp has 11 goals to lead Hilliard, which has had 17 players score, including six players with six or more goals. Dublin Scioto senior Tate Bowen and Davidson senior Kyle Antal each has eight goals, followed by Bradley senior Tyler Hernandez, Davidson junior Jacob Slater and Darby junior Jared Vaught with six apiece.
"We've been working harder driving to the net and trying to make things happen," coach Wade Bartley said. "We're shooting the puck a lot better. We've been holding our own. We're trying to clog the net more and control the offensive zone. We might have been averaging 12 shots on goal per game (when we were 1-11-5) and lately it's been more into the 20s."
Hilliard is fourth in the GCHSCHL with 18 points, behind Westerville (23, 9-1-5), Northeast (23, 9-2-5) and Newark (19, 7-4-5) and ahead of PHA (10, 4-8-2) and Athens (0, 0-16).
The Wildcats' final four regular-season games are against league opponents.
Hilliard tied both of its league contest this past weekend, including a 5-all draw with PHA on Jan. 24.
"This was a big weekend for us," Feldkamp said.
"We had to get points. We don't want to be the team that doesn't live up to what previous teams have done. I've been here for three years, and I want a big finish."
The Wildcats have had to rely on their third-string goaltender, Davidson junior Andy Munson, for most of January. Munson stepped in after starter Simo Huhtanen, a Davidson sophomore, took a puck to the head during a practice earlier this month.
Backup goalie Zachary Arrington also has been injured the past several weeks.
Munson had 17 saves in his debut, an 11-0 win over Athens on Jan. 10, and 21 saves in a 3-all tie against Westerville on Jan. 12.
He also helped Hilliard go 2-1-1 in the Pittsburgh Midwinter Classic held Jan. 18-20.
The top two teams in the GCHSCHL standings receive first-round byes for the Blue Jackets Cup, which begins Feb. 20. Hilliard was runner-up in the Blue Jackets Cup last year, losing to Newark 2-0 in the final.
"This league is so even right now. Our (eight) ties are proof of how much parity there is," Bartley said.
"We're all very similar, but with the way things have been going lately, I like our chances. I hope we can pull (winning the league title) off. Everyone is feeling more comfortable in their roles."