The Olentangy Orange High School hockey team may have to make its way through a familiar course to defend its district title.
The Pioneers are seeded second of 23 teams in the district tournament behind Olentangy Liberty and ahead of third-seeded Dublin Jerome, which beat them 2-0 in the championship game of the Blue Jackets Cup on Feb. 10 at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Orange defeated Dublin Coffman 3-1 on Feb. 7 and beat Liberty 2-0 on Feb. 8 to reach the Cup final. The Pioneers may have to beat the same three teams to earn a trip back to the state tournament.
Orange, which is 29-6, defeated Jerome 3-2 in four overtimes in the district final last season before losing to eventual champion Sylvania Northview 6-0 in a state semifinal.
"Obviously, after a couple of big games like Coffman and Liberty, we were a little slow and our legs were tired, but that's no excuse," assistant coach C.J. Jones said. "We have to take this (loss to Jerome) as a learning situation. It's an opportunity to show the kids just how important every game is from here on out."
Jerome, which improved to 24-8-3, outshot the Pioneers 39-9 in the Cup final. Senior goaltender Clay Horvath had 37 saves.
"It definitely hurts to lose this game, but it may be better for us in the long run," senior defenseman Jake Potts said. "We really want to win another district title and now we know how hard we have to work to get that."
The Celtics won their sixth Cup championship, but that hasn't always translated to district success. Since the Cup tournament began in 2002, the only teams to win Cup and district titles in the same season were Liberty in 2011 and Thomas Worthington in 2003.
"We might have been a little cocky after beating Coffman and Liberty and having not lost to Jerome earlier this year, so this might have been a wake-up call," senior forward Chris Pennington said. "This definitely should motivate us to skate harder."
Orange has a first-round bye and will face 12th-seeded Gahanna or 21st-seeded Watterson in the second round at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at Chiller North. The winner will play seventh-seeded Coffman, 11th-seeded Troy or 15th-seeded Centerville in a district quarterfinal at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Ice Haus.
The Pioneers defeated Gahanna 5-2 on Dec. 28 and beat Watterson 10-0 on Feb. 2.
"Now we know what it takes to play against good teams," sophomore forward Brandon Voytus said. "We have to come out with our best every game or our season will be over."
Patriots earn top seed in district tourney
The top seed in the district, Liberty has a first-round bye in the tournament and will face 23rd-seeded Beavercreek in the second round 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at Chiller North.
The Patriots, who are 22-5-5-1, have not played Beavercreek this season. The Beavers also have a first-round bye.
The winner plays eighth-seeded Cincinnati Xavier, ninth-seeded Upper Arlington or 18th-seeded Oxford Talawanda in a district quarterfinal at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Ice Haus.
"We're proud to be able to be the No. 1 seed," coach Jack Hoogeveen said. "The team has shown the character and perseverance needed to earn that ranking. Obviously, it's also an advantage to be at the top of our bracket, obtain a bye and maintain home-game advantage."
In the Blue Jackets Cup, Liberty defeated Gahanna 8-3 on Feb. 7 before losing to Orange in a semifinal. Junior forward Chris Bergamesca and junior defenseman Cole Bumpass each scored three goals against Gahanna.
Braves open district tourney against Thomas
Olentangy is seeded 17th in the district and will face 14th-seeded Thomas Worthington in the first round at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15, at Chiller North. The winner plays fifth-seeded St. Charles in the second round at 12 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17, at Chiller North.
The second-round winner will play fourth-seeded Cincinnati Moeller, 13th-seeded Worthington Kilbourne or 19th-seeded Cincinnati Elder in a district quarterfinal at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Ice Haus.
Olentangy, which is 8-22-0-1, lost to Thomas 9-1 on Nov. 23 in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic, but defeated the Cardinals 6-3 on Jan. 13 and 4-3 in a shootout Jan. 19. The Braves lost to St. Charles 7-1 on Feb. 3.
In the consolation bracket of the Blue Jackets Cup, the Braves defeated Watterson 3-0 on Feb. 8 before losing to UA 3-0 in a semifinal Feb. 9. Against the Eagles, senior forward Casey Stanley had two goals, sophomore forward Blake Saliaris scored one and sophomore goalie Ryan Dop had 29 saves.