The Northeast Storm club hockey team is off to a strong start despite losing half of its roster from last season when it finished 18-21-2 overall.
The Storm, which is comprised of 18 players representing 13 high schools, lost five players from a year ago to graduation as well as four players who opted not to return. Three of those who were eligible to return, defenseman Jared Fee (New Albany) and forwards Sam Merriman (Johnstown) and Zach Turner (New Albany), are playing for the Wooster Oilers, a Junior A team.
Turner led the Storm in scoring last season with 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists). Its second-leading scorer, forward Jeremy Judis, also didn't return. Judis had 42 points (18 goals, 24 assists) a year ago.
However, Northeast was 11-5-0-1 overall before playing West Chester Lakota West on Nov. 25 in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller North.
Also in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic, the Storm defeated McKees Rocks (Pa.) Montour 8-1 and Dublin Scioto 17-1 on Nov. 23 and beat Louisville (Ky.) Trinity 2-1 on Nov. 24.
"(Losing nine players) hasn't had as much of an impact on us as I originally thought it would," said Andrew Kieta, who is in his second season as head coach after serving five seasons as an assistant. "We had a couple of players who made incredible steps, we got a move-in and another player come to us from a travel team. I truly think we're deeper from top to bottom.
"Right now, we're in a better position at this point than we were last season. We've got a nice corps of guys who know our system."
Among the key returnees are senior forwards Sean Eden (Liberty Christian) and Matt Maldovan (Liberty Union), senior defenseman Nik Pettenski (Columbus Metro), junior defenseman Tyler Gischel (Centerburg) and sophomore goaltender Andrew Pettenski (Williamsport Westfall). Nik and Andrew Pettenski are cousins.
Maldovan was third on the team in scoring last season with 34 points (18 goals, 16 assists) and is serving as team captain.
Northeast won the Buckeye Cup state championship in 2011 but was unable to defend its title last season. The Storm finished sixth in pool play in the state tournament after securing the fourth and final state-qualifying berth in the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League.
Northeast went 8-10-2 (18 points) in the six-team GCHSCHL last season to finish behind Hilliard (17-1-2, 36), Newark (13-4-3, 29) and Westerville (11-8-1, 23) and ahead of PRPC (6-12-2, 14) and Athens (0-20, 0).
"We started slow last season and picked it up to return to the state tournament," Maldovan said. "But I think we were glad to be there. We won't accept that this year. We're expecting to make it to the final four and see what happens from there. Our job before then is to help the guys new to the program and to varsity hockey get comfortable and in the right frame of mind."
Andrew Pettenski posted seven shutouts last season.
"He didn't get many minutes until late January and he made 70 straight saves in the league tournament," Kieta said. "He's grown four or five inches and has an excellent stride. He has a .90 save percentage.
"We also have (New Albany sophomore) Jesse Nusbaum, who's great in net, and they're seeing about equal minutes. They give us a chance to win every time."
The other defensemen are junior Nick Gobora (Olentangy Liberty) and sophomore Grant Reader (New Albany).
Rounding out the forwards are seniors Jeremy Ahonen (Worthington Christian) and Damon Bass (Columbus Downtown), juniors Anthony Black (Lancaster), Ronnie Davies (New Albany), Travis Eden (Madison Christian) and Will Mooney (New Albany), sophomores Matthew Curtin (Big Walnut) and Taylor Farthing (Bexley) and freshmen Alex Harmon (Big Walnut) and Noah Mynes (Worthington Christian).
Davies, who also may see time as a defenseman, moved into the area from Colorado and Farthing is a former travel player.
Northeast is 3-2 in the GCHSCHL and returns to league play Thursday, Nov. 29, against Newark at Lou & Gib Ice Arena.
The Storm lost its league opener to PRPC 3-2 on Oct. 20 before beating Westerville 3-2 on Oct. 26 and Athens 12-0 on Nov. 2.
It then lost to Hilliard 5-2 on Nov. 11 before beating PRPC 3-1 on Nov. 18.