Mark Mead saw positive signs from his players on the Pickerington Hockey Association club hockey team in his first season as coach.
The Prowlers, who had to adjust to new coaching philosophies and systems after undergoing their third coaching change in as many seasons, finished 17-19-4 overall. They finished 18-23 under Brenton Blaskie last season and 15-24-3 under T.J. Hess in 2011-12.
"We were a real young team that dealt with injuries and we also were trying to adjust to one another throughout the season," Mead said. "We put in a lot of new things and were trying to work on improving fundamentals at the same time. We changed everything from off-ice things to our on-ice systems.
"I saw a lot of growth and we won't be as young next season when the kids come back with a year of experience under their belts in terms of the way we want things done."
Formerly known as PRPC, PHA went 6-10-4 (16 points) in the six-team Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League to place fifth behind Westerville (31, 12-1-7), Northeast (28, 11-3-6), Newark (23, 9-6-5) and Hilliard (23, 7-5-8) and ahead of Athens (0, 0-20).
The Prowlers went 0-2 in the double-elimination league tournament, the Blue Jackets Cup, which concluded Feb. 23. The Prowlers lost to Hilliard 5-3 in the opening round Feb. 20 and were eliminated with a 4-3 loss to Newark on Feb. 22.
Northeast won the Blue Jackets Cup, beating Newark 2-1 in triple overtime in the final.
The Blue Jackets Cup champion and the next three teams in the final GCHSCHL standings qualified for the state tournament, the Buckeye Cup. Based on their finish in the league standings, the Prowlers needed to win the Blue Jackets Cup to advance to the Buckeye Cup tournament, which concluded March 9.
PHA, which went 4-0-3 in the seven-game stretch before closing out the regular season with losses to Newark (4-2 on Feb. 13) and Northeast (3-2 on Feb. 16), loses four seniors in defensemen Brandon Pfeiffer (Canal Winchester) and William VanHoose (Watkins Memorial) and forwards Brett Chaffin and Alex Yarish, both from Pickerington North.
Pfeiffer was the Prowlers' third-leading scorer with 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) and VanHoose was second on the team in hits with 49.
"Replacing those two big defensemen will be the first thing we'll look at," Mead said. "They did a great job and helped our goalies (Reynoldsburg junior Willie Dunham and North junior Adam Collins) tremendously. Our goalies had outstanding seasons."
Dunham and Collins shared team MVP honors.
"In addition to the two goalies, we should return three of our top four scorers, but we'll be looking to add some scoring from the blue line," Mead said. "We should have 12 to 14 seniors on the team next year. We'll be more experienced and I think we'll be a force in our league."
Among those expected to return on defense are juniors Chris Bowers (Pickerington Central), Michael Gardner (Liberty Union) and Richard Sklenar (North). Bowers had 42 hits and Sklenar had 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists).
Expected back at forward are juniors Greg Bowers (Central), Owen Mayhew (Reynolds-burg), Hunter Morgan (North) and Brandon Leveque (Watkins Memorial), sophomore Matt Rapp (Canal Winchester) and freshmen Nick Hyland (Central) and Dalton McElwain (Central).
Mayhew was the team's top scorer with 24 points (16 goals, 8 assists). Morgan had 18 points (4 goals, 14 assists) and led the team with 54 hits, with Greg Bowers and Leveque having 36 and 35 hits, respectively.
"Mayhew had a knee injury late in the regular season and we had some other injuries late that hurt our scoring in the Blue Jackets Cup," Mead said. "We had a great run of (seven) games, counting league and tournaments, where we didn't lose, but the momentum was hurt by injuries."