With just five returnees and a new coach, the PRPC club hockey team hopes to bide its time and remain in contention for a berth in the Buckeye Cup state tournament while it builds team chemistry and gains experience.
The Ice Prowlers finished 15-24-3 overall last season under T.J. Hess, who stepped down after just one season as coach.
"With most of these guys playing together for the first time and with me new to the organization, the simple goal for us is to work together to try to improve with each practice and game," coach Brenton Blaskie said. "We're going to continue to work on the basics. We have such an inexperienced team that the first few weeks most of our guys had the deer-in-the-headlights look."
PRPC is 9-15 overall after going 2-2 in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic held Nov. 23-25 at Chiller North.
The Prowlers are 2-6 in the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League and return to league play Friday, Nov. 30, against Athens at Chiller Easton.
PRPC opened league play with a 5-1 loss to Westerville on Oct. 12, but beat the Warcats 2-1 on Nov. 17. The Prowlers also split with Northeast, winning 3-2 on Oct. 20 and losing 3-1 on Nov. 18. They have lost three times to Hilliard, falling 7-3 on Oct. 19, 4-2 on Oct. 26 and 6-0 on Nov. 4, and lost to Newark 6-0 on Nov. 8.
Last season, PRPC went 6-12-2 (14 points) in the six-team GCHSCHL to finish fifth, behind Hilliard (17-1-2, 36), Newark (13-4-3, 29), Westerville (11-8-1, 23) and Northeast (8-10-2, 18) and ahead of Athens (0-20, 0).
The top four teams qualified for the Buckeye Cup state tournament, marking the first time in eight seasons that PRPC did not advance. Newark went on to win the state title, defeating Jackson 3-2 in the final.
PRPC's roster is comprised of eight players from Pickerington High School North, three from Reynoldsburg, two from Pickerington Central, two from Canal Winchester, one from Watkins Memorial and one from Fisher Catholic.
The returnees are senior defenseman Michael Matsanoff (North), senior forwards Andrew Carruthers (Fisher Catholic) and Jordan Katz (North) and sophomore forwards Owen Mayhew (Reynoldsburg) and Hunter Morgan (North).
"Those five and the rest of our seniors are passionate, but they realize we have some obstacles to overcome," Blaskie said. "We'll have good leadership and I think we can compete with the top teams in (the GCHSCHL) if we give it our top effort. We want to stay in the hunt and play our best near the end of the season."
In the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic, PRPC lost to West Chester Lakota West 4-2 on Nov. 23 and defeated Whitehouse Anthony Wayne 10-0 and lost to Brunswick 8-4 on Nov. 24 before beating McKees Rocks (Pa.) Montour 7-3 on Nov. 25.
In their only other tournament thus far, the Prowlers went 0-4 and were outscored 18-6 in the FireStorm Tournament held Sept. 28-30 in Indianapolis.
In an effort to generate more offense, Blaskie moved Mayhew and senior captain Kaleb Coonfare (Canal Winchester) from forward to defense.
"We need to create time and space, let the play develop," Blaskie said. "We want to go backward, reload and then go forward, which gives our forwards more time to get open."
Other defensemen are Chris Bowers (Central), Brandon Pfeiffer (Canal Winchester) and William VanHoose (Watkins Memorial). Senior Willie Dunham (Reynoldsburg) and sophomore Adam Collins (North) are the goaltenders.
"The defense has been pretty strong for the most part, but there are some lapses," Dunham said. "But you can see the improvement already. The offense has had chances, but they're just not capitalizing. It'll come around. The thing is, this is our third coach in three years, and with a new system, it'll take a little time."
Rounding out the roster are forwards Hayden Ballog (North), Jordan Barletta (North), Greg Bowers (Central), Reed Gerlt-Ehas (Reynoldsburg), Richard Sklenar (North) and Alex Yarish (North).
"Our inexperience is a catch-22," Blaskie said. "It's an obstacle in a tough league. But it's also a positive in that everyone is out to prove themselves, so they're all giving 100 percent and listening to what we're teaching."