The point in the season for mistake-free play has arrived.
Olentangy Liberty High School hockey coach Jack Hoogeveen knows his team will need to be fundamentally sound when it faces Dublin Jerome in the district final at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
The district champion advances to play defending state champion Sylvania Northview or Toledo St. John's in a state semifinal at 4 p.m. March 8 at Nationwide Arena. The state final is set for 7 p.m. March 9 at Nationwide Arena.
"This time of year, if you make a mistake, you could be in trouble and you have to work fast to make it up," Hoogeveen said. "We have to play well against (Jerome). It's going to take an all-out effort on every play."
Top-seeded Liberty (25-5-5-1) will be playing third-seeded Jerome (27-8-3) for the third time this season. The teams tied at 2 on Jan. 12 as sophomore defenseman Jack Gainor and sophomore forward Kyle Gratz scored for the Patriots and freshman goaltender Cam Perry had 27 saves.
Liberty won the second meeting with the Celtics 4-2 on Jan. 27, getting three third-period goals from junior forward Chris Bergamesca. Junior defenseman Cole Bumpass also scored and Perry had 20 saves.
"You have to stay focused (in big games) and watch what's in front of you," Perry said. "You can't let anything get to you. When you're playing in a game like that, you have to play together. You have to work as a team on the ice."
The Patriots are making their second district-final appearance in three seasons. They won the district championship in 2011, beating Jerome 3-2 in double overtime before losing to Toledo St. Francis 9-4 in a state semifinal.
"It takes everyone working together to win a district title," Hoogeveen said. "If you're not working together, you won't win. Everyone has to support one another."
Last season, the Patriots lost to Orange 2-0 in a district semifinal.
"After missing the district final last year, we were a little bitter about it," senior forward Ethan Hollingsworth said. "We made it our priority in the offseason to work hard to get back here."
Jerome has reached the district final for the third consecutive season. The Celtics edged second-seeded Orange 2-1 in a district semifinal Feb. 24, as forward James Eastep scored the winning goal with 1 minute, 47 seconds left.
"I think Jerome is fundamental and (the Celtics) stay wide and have three coming at you on the rush," Hoogeveen said. "They are really persistent and have good skating legs."
Hollingsworth said the Celtics test an opponent's stamina.
"(The Celtics) have depth," he said. "Coach (Pat) Murphy does a good job with the lines, rotating them so they can really tire out their opponents."
Liberty reached the district final by beating fourth-seeded Cincinnati Moeller 3-0 in a district semifinal Feb. 24. Bergamesca, Gratz and sophomore forward Brock Rumbaugh scored and Perry had 16 saves. The Patriots outshot Moeller 36-16.
In a third-round game Feb. 23, Liberty beat eighth-seeded Upper Arlington 4-0 as Rumbaugh scored three goals, senior forward Kyle Horner scored one and Perry had 24 saves.
The Patriots, who opened the tournament with a 10-0 win over 23rd-seeded Beavercreek on Feb. 16, have outscored their first three postseason opponents 17-0.
Pioneers fall short against Jerome
Orange's quest to reach the state tournament for the second year in a row ended with the loss to Jerome in a district semifinal.
The Pioneers, who lost to Northview 6-0 in a state semifinal last season, finished 30-6 overall. They beat 12th-seeded Gahanna 5-0 in the second round of the district tournament Feb. 17 after having a first-round bye and defeated seventh-seeded Dublin Coffman 3-2 in the third round Feb. 23 before falling a goal short against Jerome.
"The kids gave it all that they had and that's all you can ask," coach Tim Pennington said. "Sometimes when you get the puck near the net and shoot, anything can happen. (The Celtics) made the play at the end of the game when they needed it. We got them last year (3-2 in quadruple overtime in the district final) and they got us this time."
Freshman forward Hunter Shepherd scored against Jerome and senior goalie Clay Horvath had 35 saves. Against Coffman, senior forward Chris Pennington, junior forward Adam Wright and sophomore forward Brandon Voytus scored and Horvath had 33 saves.
The Pioneers also came up short against Jerome in the Blue Jackets Cup championship game, losing 2-0 on Feb. 10.
Orange won the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division title this season, going 14-2 (28 points) to finish ahead of St. Charles (10-5-0-1, 21), DeSales (7-7-1-1, 16) and Thomas Worthington (4-11-1, 9).
The Pioneers lose eight seniors in Horvath (1.54 goals-against average, .962 save percentage), Pennington (18 goals, 28 assists), forward Austin Wallace (8, 12) and defensemen Tyler Brumfield (4, 12), Mitch Knapp (9, 18), Jacob Potts (9, 14), Eric Ressler and Tyler White.
"This was a great group of kids," coach Pennington said. "They had 31 wins this season and 34 last year, which says it all. I had more fun with this group of guys than any of the teams I've had here. They were a big part of some big games the past two seasons."
Expected to return are Shepherd (12, 12), Voytus (26, 31), Wright (7, 10), junior forwards Jon Bouldin (7, 6), Dino Capoccia (39, 20), Evan Gutkoski and Coleman Metzger, junior goalie Kyle Jones, sophomore forwards Luke Buchy (14, 11) and Karsten Green-church (12, 12), sophomore goalie Cam Beck and sophomore defensemen Sean Murley and Jared Shafer.
"We expect to have a lot of good forwards back, but we'll lose a lot on defense, especially in goal with Clay graduating," coach Pennington said. "We'll have to have some people step up defensively for us and get some help from the (junior varsity) kids coming up."
Young Braves grew throughout season
Olentangy was the 17th seed at district and finished 8-22-0-1 overall after losing to 14th-seeded Thomas 5-0 in the first round Feb. 15.
The Braves placed fourth (3-14, 6) in the CHC-Blue, behind Gahanna (8-6-1-2, 19), Worthington Kilbourne (7-9-1, 15) and Watterson (4-12-0-1, 9) and ahead of Dublin Scioto (0-17, 0).
Olentangy loses three seniors in forwards Ross Orsini and Casey Stanley and defenseman Drew Woitovich.
"We had three seniors and two were with us for four years, with Drew and Casey," coach Mazin Habash said. "Ross Orsini moved to the (school) district for his junior year. They were a big part of the team this year and kept things positive. We were up against the wall with such a young team."
Junior forward Dylan Ahonen was the Braves' leading scorer in league play with eight goals and seven assists. Sophomore goalie Ryan Dop and junior goalie Jake Fox had an .857 and .856 save percentage, respectively, in league play.
Also expected back are juniors Nathan Hershiser (forward), Jake Hetterscheidt (forward), Austin Moore (defenseman), Josh Seeman (defenseman) and Vaughn Wallace (forward), sophomores Blake Saliaris (forward) and Vald Nevero (forward) and freshmen Landon Diedrich (goalie), Morgan Laubacher (forward), Nick Leidheiser (defenseman/forward), Justin Miner (forward), Nick Rogers (defenseman), Nick Sansone (forward), Nick Scott (forward) and Christian Woogerd (defenseman).
"It was tough, but everyone learned something this year," Habash said. "Hopefully the guys will come in next year with more confidence now that they have seen what the league has to offer and they know what to expect."