The PRPC Ice Prowlers have been in a must-win mode since the beginning of the season.

The PRPC Ice Prowlers have been in a must-win mode since the beginning of the season.

Not much has changed as the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League enters the final two and a half weeks of its regular season, either.

Following a 6-3 loss to the Northeast Storm on Jan. 21, the Ice Prowlers remain on the outside looking in as far as the state tournament is concerned.

PRPC, which quickly dug a hole for itself against the Storm by allowing four first-period goals, dropped to 5-8-1 with 11 points in the league with the loss.

The Prowlers were 9-11-2 overall heading into a game against Newark at the Lou & Gib Reese Ice Arena on Thursday, Jan. 26. Defending state champion Northeast improved to 7-6-2 with 16 points in the GCHSCHL and is in fourth place, one spot ahead of PRPC.

The top four teams in the GCHSCHL qualify for the state tournament, which will be held in March.

"We're definitely in a tough spot," first-year coach T.J. Hess said before the game with the Storm. "We have to win to get in. If we lose, it's on us."

The Ice Prowlers have six league games remaining and Northeast has five, although their four-game series is now complete. The Storm held a 2-1-1 advantage, also winning 4-3 on Oct. 22. The Ice Prowlers won 4-0 on Dec. 17 and the teams tied at 6 on Nov. 11.

Hilliard sits atop the GCHSCHL at 12-1-1 (25 points), with Newark (9-3-2 , 20) and Westerville (9-6, 18) rounding out the top three.

All three teams seem a lock to qualify for state.

PRPC will play Hilliard on Sunday, Jan. 29, at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. The teams will meet again in the Feb. 12 regular-season finale. The Wildcats hold a 2-0 advantage in the season series, having won 3-0 on Nov. 6 and 5-2 on Oct. 21.

PRPC's other league games are against Athens (Feb. 5), Westerville (Feb. 10) and Newark (Feb. 11).

The Generals, who lost to Northeast in last year's state final, defeated the Ice Prowlers 4-1 on Dec. 1 after PRPC won 3-1 on Nov. 5.

"Teams like PRPC and Westerville set the tone early in our league and made everybody else raise their level of play," Newark coach Don Jennings said. "We always enjoy playing PRPC."

The Ice Prowlers have qualified for the state tournament every year since the event was founded in 2005 and are the only GCHSCHL team to accomplish that feat. They were 2-5-1 after eight league games, however, and since then have scrambled to stay in the race for a state-tournament berth.

Hess called this a "transitional" season.

"I think it is, and it's not just PRPC," he said. "Columbus hockey as a whole is in a transitional phase.

"We're seeing more kids come out of the house leagues instead of (the) travel (leagues), although Hilliard might be the exception. But Newark has done a great job developing (its own) players, and that's a model we'd like to follow."

Through 16 games, Nathan Billups was leading PRPC in total points (22), followed by Kyle Hyer (13), Kaleb Coonfare (12) Seth Hunter (9) and Shane Selan (9). Billups was leading in goals (12) and assists (10).

"Every game is a must win right now, and even then we might need some help (to qualify for state)," Hess said. "We don't like being in a position where a lot of other things have to fall into place, but that's where we are."