Two district championships in three seasons might be a tough act for the Olentangy Liberty High School hockey team to follow, especially with the Patriots needing to reload their offense to again reach the state tournament.
Liberty finished 26-6-5-1 overall last season after losing to Sylvania Northview 4-2 in a state semifinal. The Patriots defeated Dublin Jerome 4-3 in overtime to win a district title.
"It's going to be difficult to (repeat as district champions) because we lost a lot of character guys," said seventh-year coach Jack Hoogeveen, whose team fell to Toledo St. Francis 9-4 in a 2011 state semifinal after defeating Jerome 3-2 in double overtime in the district final. "We're definitely going to be more of a defensive team, especially early on."
The Patriots lost 10 players from a year ago to graduation, including Noah Allmaras (19 goals, 13 assists), Ethan Hollingsworth (19 goals, 40 assists) and Kyle Horner (15 goals, 17 assists). Also, junior Brock Rumbaugh (40 goals, 27 assists) chose to play AAA travel hockey.
The Patriots' top returnee is senior forward Chris Bergamesca, who started the past three seasons and scored 38 goals with 46 assists last year.
"Our team has been looking really good," said Bergamesca, who was ThisWeek's Athlete of the Year in hockey last winter and a first-team all-Capital Hockey Conference selection. "We didn't know what to expect because we came in with lot of younger kids, but we've been doing great so far."
Liberty (32 points, 15-0-1-1) won the CHC-Red Division last year ahead of runner-up Jerome (28, 13-2-2). The Patriots lost to Olentangy Orange 2-0 in a semifinal of the Blue Jackets Cup.
The Patriots return four defensemen in seniors Cole Bumpass (11 goals, 17 assists; second-team all-league), Nick Kouskouris (1 goal, 5 assists) and Daniel Rosenberg and junior Ryan Gratz (7 goals). Also, sophomore goaltender Cam Perry returns after being named all-CHC-Red with a .961 save percentage.
Junior Jack Gainor (6 goals, 14 assists) also returns at forward.
"We have most of our defensemen back, and we have a sophomore, Eric NeCamp, who is playing well and we still have a very good goaltender," Hoogeveen said. "We haven't lost a lot (on defense) and use that to our advantage."
Rounding out the roster are senior forward Grant Reeves, juniors Zach Boll (forward), Joe Bradish (forward) and Josh Schoettmer (defenseman), sophomores Joey Bergamesca (forward), Daniel Blaine (defenseman), Andrew Bull (forward), Ethan Flemming (forward), Eli Koivisto (forward) and Corey Peck (forward) and freshmen Jimmy Bursinger (forward), J.T. Schoettmer (defenseman) and Logan Senhauser (goalie).
The Patriots opened Nov. 23 by losing to Gahanna 4-1 in a CHC game at Chiller North. Chris Bergamesca scored and Perry had 24 saves.
"I think that the younger guys are hungry and eager to play," Hoogeveen said. "We're looking to improve every game, and we have seen the effort in scrimmages. We have to continue to improve."