Changes are in store for the Olentangy Orange High School hockey team.
A year after finishing 31-7 overall and winning the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division (28 points, 14-2) ahead of runner-up St. Charles (21, 10-5-0-1), the Pioneers have moved up to the CHC-Red.
Orange, which also lost much of its defense to graduation, will compete in the CHC-Red with Olentangy Liberty, Cincinnati Moeller, Dublin Coffman and Dublin Jerome. Last year, Jerome defeated the Pioneers 2-1 in a district semifinal and 2-0 in the Blue Jackets Cup final.
"The guys are looking forward to playing in the big division, but this is one of our younger teams," sixth-year coach Tim Pennington said. "Every year we preach fundamentals and our system of play. We hope this year they pick it up quickly."
Lost to graduation were first-team all-league goaltender Clay Horvath (.962 save percentage) and five defensemen, including first-team all-league performers Mitch Knapp and Jacob Potts.
"Graduating five defensemen and Clay in goal will be tough to replace," Pennington said. "Even though we may be a little younger this year, we still have high hopes."
Juniors Sean Murley and Jarrett Shafer return on defense and junior Cole Essig has rejoined the program as a defenseman after playing AAA travel hockey last season.
"Sean Murley and Jarrett Shafer bring experience as defensemen," Pennington said. "Cole Essig played AAA travel last year, so it's a big plus having him back as a defender. He brings an offensive aspect to the blue-liners."
Returning forwards include senior Adam Wright (7 goals, 10 assists last season), junior Luke Buchy (14 goals, 11 assists), junior Karsten Green-Church (12 goals, 12 assists), junior Brandon Voytus (26, 31) and sophomore Hunter Shepherd (12, 12).
"This team is really strong on and off of the ice," Wright said. "We're really close friends and that helps in the locker room and in games. We always know that we're there to back each other up."
Senior Kyle Jones and junior Cam Beck will play in goal for the Pioneers, who open Friday, Nov. 29, against Sylvania Southview in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller Dublin.
"We have a couple of guys in goal who played with us last season who were up and down between varsity and j.v.," Pennington said. "Kyle Jones and Cam Beck are both very capable of playing in goal. We'll see how that shakes out."
Rounding out the roster are senior forwards Jon Bouldin, Evan Gutkoski and Cole Metzger, juniors Jude Holston (forward), Gabe Horvath (defenseman) and Ryan Welsh (forward) and freshmen Mark Murley (defenseman) and Josh Rochon (forward).
Orange now is the host team for the MLK Tournament on Jan. 17-20 at Chiller North. Thomas Worthington had been the host team in past seasons.
"I think we're going to have more teams and add a j.v. division," Pennington said. "We want to make it as big of a tournament as we can. There are a ton of volunteers working on it and it should be a lot of fun."