For the first time in his five seasons with the Olentangy High School hockey team, coach Mazin Habash has the depth he has desired.
The Braves have an eight-player freshman class that has boosted the roster to 21.
"Everyone is getting involved on the ice. It's first time in four years that we have had a full roster," said Habash, whose team finished 12-21 overall a year ago. "We have four lines of forwards, three lines of defenders and three goalies. We're a young team, but we have depth."
Last season, Olentangy lost to Olentangy Liberty 5-2 in the third round of the district tournament after defeating seventh-seeded Troy 4-3 in the second round and Cincinnati St. Xavier 5-4 in two overtimes in the first round.
The Braves finished fourth (5-12, 10 points) in the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division behind Upper Arlington (14-2-1, 29), Olentangy Orange (13-4, 26) and Thomas Worthington (8-8-1, 17) and ahead of Gahanna (2-15, 4). Dublin Jerome (14-1-1-1) won the CHC-Red title, and DeSales (9-6-0-1) won the CHC-Blue.
Olentangy and Gahanna have moved to the CHC-Blue, which also includes Dublin Scioto, Watterson and Worthington Kilbourne. UA moved to the CHC-Red, and DeSales and St. Charles now are in the CHC-White.
The Braves opened with a 9-1 loss to Thomas on Nov. 23 in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller Dublin. They defeated Cincinnati Elder 4-2 and Perrysburg 5-1 on Nov. 24 and lost to Gahanna 9-1 in the tournament's Red Division third-place game Nov. 25.
"We have a very young team and we have dropped to the Blue Division (in the CHC), so we want to try to compete for that (title)," said Habash, whose co-coach with the Braves, Rob Sangster, left to coach St. Charles.
The leading scorers back for the Braves are junior forward Dylan Ahonen (10 goals, 27 assists) and senior forward Casey Stanley (7, 7). Junior goaltender Jake Fox had an .878 save percentage last season, and sophomore goalie Ryan Dop had a save percentage of .845.
"We have a lot of young players and they are really trying their best," said Stanley, who is a captain along with senior defenseman Drew Woitovich. "They are listening to the coaches and really want to get better. We have a lot of kids who really understand the team ethic instead of playing for themselves."
The assistant captains are senior forward Ross Orsini and Ahonen. Other returning letterwinners are juniors Nathan Hershiser (forward), Jake Hetterscheidt (forward), Austin Moore (defenseman), Josh Seeman (defenseman) and Vaughn Wallace (forward) and sophomore Blake Saliaris (forward).
Rounding out the roster are sophomore forward Vlad Neverov and the eight freshmen -- goalie Landon Diedrich, forward Morgan Laubacher, defenseman/forward Nick Leidheiser, forward Justin Miner, defenseman Nick Rogers, forward Nick Sansone, forward Nick Scott and defenseman Christian Woogerd.
"We have so many young kids and this is the biggest freshman class that we have had. We have eight and usually we have no more than three or four," Habash said. "It's been good for the team because we have a lot of guys competing for spots. In the past, with a smaller roster, we had to depend on a select few to get the job done. Now we can try to get guys in for quick shifts and we can play more of a gritty style of hockey instead of a finesse game."