Coach Tim Pennington knew just how close his Olentangy Orange High School hockey team was from returning to the state tournament.
The second-seeded Pioneers finished 27-5-3-2 overall, losing to top-seeded St. Charles 3-1 on March 1 in a district final at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
The Cardinals scored 15 seconds into the game, but junior forward Brandon Voytus scored off a pass from junior forward Karsten Green-Church with 8:08 left in the opening period to tie it.
St. Charles went ahead for good with 3:29 left in the first, and the teams were scoreless until the Cardinals got an empty-net goal with 26.3 seconds left.
Junior goaltender Cam Beck had 25 saves for the Pioneers, who won a district title in 2012.
"It was a tough start when they scored 15 seconds into the game, but we had our chances," said Pennington, whose team tied Toledo St. Francis for 10th in the final state poll behind top-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius. "There's a good reason that (the Cardinals) are ranked (sixth) in the state. They were in good position all night."
The Pioneers had a first-round bye in the postseason before defeating 15th-seeded Worthington Kilbourne 12-0 in the second round Feb. 16. They defeated sixth-seeded Dublin Coffman 5-3 on Feb. 22 in the third round and third-seeded Dublin Jerome 4-2 on Feb. 23 in a semifinal.
In the Blue Jackets Cup, top-seeded Orange was eliminated by fifth-seeded St. Charles 3-2 in overtime in a semifinal Feb. 7 after defeating eighth-seeded Watterson 10-2 in the first round Feb. 6.
The Pioneers won the Capital Hockey Conference-Red Division by going 13-0-2-1 (29 points) in the CHC, finishing ahead of Jerome (10-1-4-1, 25 points), Liberty (9-2-5, 23), Coffman (9-6-1, 19) and Cincinnati Moeller (4-12, 8).
Junior forward Luke Buchy was first-team all-CHC with 17 goals and 20 assists in league play, and Voytus was second-team all-CHC with 15 goals and 18 assists. Junior defenseman Sean Murley was all-CHC-Red.
Sophomore forward Jake Shepherd had 12 goals and 20 assists in the league, and Green-Church had seven goals with 10 assists. Junior defenseman Cole Essig had nine assists in league play and senior forward Jon Bouldin added eight assists.
"We had some good seniors, but we're still young overall and should have a lot coming back," said Pennington, who completed his sixth season. "We were ranked in the top 10 for the first time this season. We lost a lot of close games and when you lose the last game you always remember it. Hopefully we can make it back (to the district final) and go further next year."
Patriots rally after slow start
Liberty finished 16-13-7 overall after losing eight of its first nine games.
The fifth-seeded Patriots lost to fourth-seeded Upper Arlington 5-1 on Feb. 22 in the third round of the district tournament.
Liberty had a first-round bye before defeating 16th-seeded Watterson 5-3 on Feb. 16.
In the Blue Jackets Cup, third-seeded Liberty reached a semifinal before losing 1-0 to second-seeded Jerome on Feb. 7. The Patriots defeated sixth-seeded UA 3-1 in the first round Feb. 6.
"We had a nice run until the loss to Jerome in the Blue Jackets Cup semi," said coach Jack Hoogeveen, whose team earned wins or ties in 21 of 24 games from Dec. 13 to Feb. 7. "(Senior forward) Chris Bergamesca really led us on and off the ice. Bergie had twice as many points as anyone on the team. ... We'll miss him, and a lot of the seniors we had."
Bergamesca (30 goals, 40 assists) was selected to play for the South/West team in the Ohio Senior All-Star Game on Saturday, March 8, at Nationwide Arena.
Senior defenseman Cole Bumpass (16 goals, 15 assists) and Bergamesca were first-team all-CHC and sophomore goalie Cam Perry (.922 save percentage) was second-team all-CHC.
Freshman forward Jimmy Bursinger had 17 goals with 17 assists, followed by sophomore forward Ethan Flemming (13 goals, 15 assists), senior defenseman Nick Kouskouris (4 goals, 11 assists), junior forward Jack Gainor (3 goals, 10 assists), junior defenseman Ryan Gratz (6 goals, 7 assists), senior defenseman Daniel Rosenburg (5 goals, 6 assists) and sophomore forward Corey Peck (3 goals, 8 assists).
"We're losing a lot, especially on defense, so Ryan Gratz will have to be a big leader for us back there," said Hoogeveen, who completed his seventh season. "Our whole back end will pretty much be gone, so we'll have a lot of work to do."
Also expected back are juniors Zach Boll (forward), Joe Bradish (forward) and Josh Schoettmer (defenseman), sophomores Joey Bergamesca (forward), Daniel Blaine (defenseman), Andrew Bull (forward) and Eli Koivisto (forward) and freshmen J.T. Schoettmer (defenseman) and Logan Senhauser (goalie).
Olentangy reaches 2nd round of district
Olentangy finished 14-18-2 overall after losing to UA 4-1 in the second round of district play Feb. 15.
The 17th-seeded Braves defeated 13th-seeded Troy 4-1 on Feb. 14 in the first round.
They reached the semifinals of the Blue Jackets Cup consolation bracket, defeating Thomas Worthington 5-2 on Feb. 7 before losing to Moeller 5-2 on Feb. 8.
Olentangy finished third (6-10, 12) in the CHC-Blue behind Watterson (7-9, 14) and Kilbourne (6-8-0-2, 14) and ahead of Thomas (2-13-1, 5) and Dublin Scioto (0-16, 0).
The Braves were led by sixth-year coach Mazin Habash.
Senior defenseman Austin Moore was first-team all-CHC-Blue with seven goals in league play, and junior goalie Ryan Dop also was first-team all-CHC-Blue.
Senior forward Dylan Ahonen scored 12 goals in CHC play and was named to the Ohio Senior All-Star Game for the South/West team. Senior forward Josh Seemann had 13 goals in league play.
Expected to return are junior forward Vlad Neverov, sophomores Brian Brown (forward), Landon Diedrich (goalie), Morgan Laubacher (forward), Nick Leidheiser (defenseman), Justin Miner (forward), Nick Rogers (defenseman), Nick Sansone (forward), Nick Scott (forward) and Christian Woogerd (defenseman) and freshmen Carter Conrad (defenseman), Ryan Loris (forward) and Nick Lawless (defenseman).