Two years ago the Northeast Storm club hockey team was on a bus trip back to Columbus after a loss to Athens in Bird Arena.

Two years ago the Northeast Storm club hockey team was on a bus trip back to Columbus after a loss to Athens in Bird Arena.

As other players slept or listened to music, John Fixari, Clay Cooper and Scott Mogul, all sophomores at the time, were discussing the team and what the future may hold. The trio joked that as seniors they would win the Blue Jackets Cup, a notion that seemed as ridiculous then as it did three months ago, shortly before this season began.

And though Northeast was a team that was perennially considered the league's doormat, seemingly confined to last place in the GCHSCHL standings since joining the league in 2001, nobody is laughing at the Storm anymore.

After opening 0-2-1, the Storm is 9-7-1 overall and 4-4-1 in the GCHSCHL. Northeast is six points behind league-leader PRPC in the standings despite having played three fewer games than the Prowlers.

"Before the season one of the players was joking that they were tired of playing against other teams on their senior nights," coach Mark Fixari said. "I think you've seen the end of the Storm being the doormat of the league."

Last season Northeast finished 1-20-3 in the GCHSCHL and earned its first league victory in three years. This season Northeast got its first league win Nov. 16 when it defeated Athens 5-0. Athens is the defending Buckeye Cup state champion.

"I think we've surprised everybody but ourselves," coach Fixari said. "We expected to be successful. We've had an influx of guys step up and the kids have just bought into our system and done everything we've asked of them. They've gotten better virtually every game and that kind of success builds on itself."

"We had a streak of seven undefeated games and it was weird because we didn't know how to take it," John Fixari, a forward, said. "Then we got some wins and some swagger and we realized this is a different team."

A large reason the team has found more success this season is that it has become much more physical than in the past. In winning just one league the last three seasons, the Storm became used to being pushed around and were one of the least physical teams in the league.

In his first year, coach Fixari knew that had to change. He increased the tempo of practices and forced the players to play as hard in practice as they would in a game.

"They had to learn to play like you practice," coach Fixari said. "Having them buy into that intensity of practice and the sharpness necessary in each practice is so important to our success in the games. And we break that down all the way to our warm-ups. If we have a bad practice and our warm-ups aren't sharp, then it's hard to turn it on for the game."

Getting the team to play more physical also was important because Northeast doesn't have an elite goal-scorer such as PRPC's Adam McGrath or Westerville's Michael Birch. Instead, the scoring has been shared by John Fixari, Cooper, Cameron Ballew, Andrew Bloch, Ian Hurst, Mooney, Jason Scott and T.J. Williams.

"We don't have a lot of natural goal-scorers. We can't win just based on talent," coach Fixari said. "For a long time the Storm got beat up and it's hard to compete when you physically don't match up. We had to convince our guys that if we're going to win, we had to physical, and we had to be more responsible with the puck. We just can't outscore teams."

The defense has stepped up to the challenge of the coaches and established Northeast as one of the more physical teams in the league. Led by Brian Shepherd, Derek Wolfe, Quinton Cook, Kyle Singleton and Brady Kiehl, the Storm no longer is viewed as being soft.

With the early success, views and goals quickly have changed. Possessing wins over league powers Athens and Westerville, and having played PRPC close, Northeast has changed its goal to winning the league outright as well as the Blue Jackets Cup.

"We feel we're capable of beating any team on any night," Mooney said. "We know we can play with every team. If we could win the Blue Jackets Cup, that would be everything. That would be great. It's definitely our goal, but we still have a way to go to get there."

"Our kids are now convinced we can win every game," coach Fixari said. "The biggest thing now is just keeping the work ethic up."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Northeast Storm hockey team:

*Dec. 4 --Defeated Newark 2-1

*Dec. 12 --Def. Westerville 5-2

Dec. 13 --Def. DeSales 2-1

*Dec. 14 --Lost to Newark 5-3

*Dec. 19 --Lost to PRPC 4-3

*Friday -- Vs. Hilliard/Southwest at Dublin Chiller

*Sunday --Vs. Westerville at Dispatch Ice Haus

Of note: The Storm are 9-7-1 overall and 4-4-1 in the GCHSCHL

*GCHSCHL contest