Dublin Jerome High School hockey coach Pat Murphy is quite familiar with the position that his team is in heading into the Blue Jackets Cup tournament.
The Celtics are the defending Cup champions and have won the event five times. They begin their quest for their sixth title when they face DeSales in the first round Thursday, Feb. 7, at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Jerome is the No. 2 seed in the event, which runs through Sunday, Feb. 10. DeSales is seeded seventh.
"We approach it like: You win, you move on. You lose, you're done," Murphy said. "This tournament is important to our team and we've had some success there before. You have to go out and play desperate."
The Cup tournament, which involves all of the teams in the Capital Hockey Conference, is in its 12th season. Jerome won three consecutive titles from 2006-08 and another championship in 2010. The only other teams to win the Cup title are Dublin Coffman (2004, 2005 and 2009), Olentangy Liberty (2011) and Thomas Worthington (2002 and 2003).
The championship bracket of the Cup tournament consists of the top four teams in the CHC-Red Division, the top three teams in the CHC-White and the CHC-Blue champion.
Jerome finished second (13-2-2, 28 points) in the CHC-Red behind Liberty (15-0-1-1, 32), with Cincinnati Moeller (11-5-0-1, 23) and Coffman (10-7, 20) rounding out the top four. Olentangy Orange (14-2, 28) won the CHC-White, with St. Charles (10-5-0-1, 21) and DeSales (7-7-1-1, 16) placing second and third, respectively. Gahanna (8-6-1-2, 19) won the CHC-Blue.
In other first-round matchups Thursday, Feb. 7, third-seeded Moeller plays sixth-seeded St. Charles, fourth-seeded Coffman faces fifth-seeded Orange and top-seeded Liberty plays eighth-seeded Gahanna.
"It's win or go home, just like in the district (tournament)," Liberty coach Jack Hoogeveen said. "Our seniors have really been stepping up and showing a lot more seriousness to the game."
Liberty, which is the only team to win Cup and district championships in the same season, was ranked eighth in the state poll last week behind top-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius. The Patriots topped the district poll last week, with Orange, Jerome, Moeller, Coffman and St. Charles rounding out the top six.
Hoogeveen said his team had a wake-up call after losing to Findlay 5-3 on Jan. 21 in the Thomas Worthington MLK Tournament. Then on Jan. 27, the Patriots trailed Jerome 2-1 late in the third period of their league contest before rallying behind three goals from junior forward Chris Bergamesca to win 4-2 at Chiller Dublin.
"We were talking about when to pull our goalie (for an extra skater) and then we tied them up," Hoogeveen said. "It was a pretty dramatic turnaround in the final three minutes. To play well enough to win that game so late in their barn really can get you going."
Orange is looking for its first Cup championship after winning its first district title last season, when it defeated Jerome 3-2 in four overtimes in the district final. The Pioneers lost to eventual state champion Sylvania Northview 6-0 in a state semifinal.
"This time of year, every game is going to be a battle," Orange coach Tim Pennington said. "The reality of it is that anyone can end up winning it. A lot of it comes down to confidence, the health of your team and some luck factors as well."
Matchups also are important. For example, DeSales seems to match up well against Jerome. The teams tied at 3 on Jan. 6 in their lone league meeting and the Stallions defeated the Celtics 3-1 on Nov. 25 in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic.
"If you look at the scores this season, there haven't been a lot of blowouts," Murphy said. "Most of the games are closely contested, and they will be from here on out.
"We try to peak at the right time. We really want to be playing our best when the (Cup and district tournaments) come around."
Gahanna is making its first appearance in the championship bracket of the Cup tournament.
"We only had seven wins last year and we doubled that this year," coach J.J. Stallsworth said. "One of our goals all year was to get in the Blue Jackets Cup (championship tournament) and we did that (Feb. 2) on senior night with a 5-2 win over Thomas Worthington. That was great because the seniors have meant a lot to this team."
Competing in the consolation bracket are Dublin Scioto, Olentangy, Thomas, Upper Arlington, Watterson and Worthington Kilbourne.
In the first round Friday, Feb. 8, 11th-seeded Kilbourne faces 14th-seeded Scioto and 12th-seeded Watterson plays 13th-seeded Olentangy. Ninth-seeded UA and 10th-seeded Thomas have first-round byes.