Coach Jack Hoogeveen is hoping a signature win by his Olentangy Liberty High School hockey team will help give it confidence against any opponent.
The Patriots defeated perennial state power Toledo St. Francis 5-3 on Dec. 2 at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. Liberty also has won six consecutive games since losing to St. Francis 3-1 on Nov. 25 in the final round of the George DiPaolo Memorial Thanksgiving Tournament in Oxford.
Liberty lost to St. Francis 9-4 in a state semifinal in 2011. The Knights went on to win the title with a 2-1 overtime win over Lakewood St. Edward.
"(St. Francis) beat us in the final four two years ago and beat us last year (3-1 in the DiPaolo tournament) and earlier this year, so it was nice to come back and get a win against them," said Hoogeveen, whose team is 7-2-1 overall. "They're a formidable program and it's nice to get that win so the kids really know that we can play with them.
"We have been winning with perseverance. We were down 3-1 to St. Francis (on Dec. 2) but came back and took a 4-3 lead and scored a late empty-netter to give us the extra goal."
The Patriots open the Parma Padua Christmas Tournament on Friday, Dec. 21, against state runner-up St. Edward before playing Cleveland St. Ignatius and Mentor Lake Catholic on Saturday, Dec. 22. The opponent for the final round Sunday, Dec. 23, will be determined by pool play from the first two days.
Liberty lost to St. Ignatius 3-2 in the DiPaolo tournament Nov. 24 and tied Lake Catholic at 4 the same day. They have not played St. Edward this season.
"I think (the win over St. Francis) sends a message to the Toledo area and northwest Ohio, but we have another tough challenge with four games against some of the best teams in the Cleveland area (in the Padua tournament)," Hoogeveen said. "We're well into the season and our guys are getting a good feel for the game, just like with all teams."
Through eight games, junior forward Chris Bergamesca led the team with 10 goals and seven assists for 17 points. In the win over St. Francis, Bergamesca scored two goals to become Liberty's career leader in points, surpassing 2009 graduate Doug Kouskouris, who had 68.
Senior forward Ethan Hollingsworth had scored six goals with five assists through eight games, and sophomore forward Brock Rumbaugh also had six goals with five assists. Senior defenseman Gus Olmstead had four goals with four assists and senior forward Noah Allmaras had three goals and two assists. Senior forward Kyle Horner and sophomore forward Jack Gainor both had two goals with two assists.
"Our best players have been leading us, and right now we're working on getting more scoring from some of the other guys," Hoogeveen said. "We're off to a good start, but anything can happen. You can have injuries or your goalies can cool off."
Pioneers aim to win division
Despite reaching a state semifinal last season, Orange has yet to win a Capital Hockey Conference title. Last year, the Pioneers finished second in the CHC-White Division at 13-4 with 26 points, behind Upper Arlington (14-2-1, 29).
The CHC-White now includes Orange, DeSales, St. Charles and Thomas Worthington.
Coach Tim Pennington said a CHC-White title is the first goal for the Pioneers, who are 12-3 overall.
"Even though we went to the (state) final four last year, we have yet to win our (CHC) division and we want to win it this year," said Pennington, whose team lost to eventual champion Sylvania Northview 6-0 in a state semifinal at Nationwide Arena. "We would like to get back to the final four like last year, but we also want to win our division and that (started last) weekend."
Orange also had a program-first by defeating Dublin Coffman 5-2 on Dec. 8 in the Adam Allgeyer Memorial Tournament at Chiller Dublin. The Pioneers had lost to the Shamrocks 4-3 in the Gray Division final of the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 25 at Chiller Dublin and had never before beaten Coffman.
"We finally beat Coffman, the only team left in the conference that we had not beaten," Pennington said. "We're getting really good team play and that has been why we have started well."
Through 12 games, junior forward Dino Capoccia led Orange with 22 goals and 10 assists, followed by sophomore forward Brandon Voytus (10 goals, 17 assists) and senior forward Chris Pennington (10 goals, 15 assists). Three senior defenders also had contributed on offense, as Jacob Potts had five goals and five assists and Tyler Brumfield and Mitch Knapp both had one goal and six assists.
Senior goaltender Clay Horvath had a 1.91 goals-against average.
Braves continue to grow on ice
Olentangy fell to 2-9 overall by dropping its first three CHC contests to Dublin Jerome (10-0 on Dec. 14), Gahanna (3-1 on Dec. 15) and Orange (9-1 on Dec. 16).
The Braves play in the CHC-Blue with Dublin Scioto, Gahanna, Kilbourne and Watterson.
"We're scoring goals, but that could be a challenge when we play teams from the Red and White divisions (of the CHC)," coach Mazin Habash said. "When we play in our division, we'll be able to score some goals. Defensively, we have to keep the pucks out of the net."
Habash said senior defenseman Drew Woitovich has been playing well and helping to lead the team on and off the ice.
"I think our overall attitude has been good and the guys have been willing to work hard to get better in practice," Habash said. "As far as the games have gone, we have a young team and we have been passive at times. We're not as aggressive as we would like to be."