Westerville club hockey coach Brad Bloomberg remembers looking at the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League standings at the conclusion of last season and noticing only five ties.
This season there were 15.
Bloomberg isn't sure what impact that will have on the league's double-elimination tournament, the Blue Jackets Cup, which begins Thursday, Feb. 20, at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
"It seems like last year, a lot of games were close and someone would pull it out," Bloomberg said. "This year, we're still having a lot of close games and they're ending up in ties across the board. It just shows how competitive this league is. We've tried to make that the focus in our own practices. Every team in this league, except Athens, has either tied or beaten us, and we have to be ready to go when we get on the ice.
"I expected the league to be very competitive this year, but the actual number of ties is surprising."
Westerville is 21-5-9 overall and finished 12-1-7 in the GCHSCHL. The Warcats won the league's regular-season championship with 31 points, finishing ahead of Northeast (28, 11-3-6), Newark (23, 9-6-5), Hilliard (22, 7-5-8), PHA (16, 6-10-4) and Athens (0, 0-20).
Newark has won the past two Blue Jackets Cup championships despite Hilliard having won the regular-season title both years. Hilliard is seeking its first league tournament championship since 2011, as the Wildcats lost to the Generals 2-0 in last year's championship game and 4-3 in the 2012 final.
No team has won both the GCHSCHL regular-season and Blue Jackets Cup championships since Newark in 2009.
Westerville was 15-3-3 overall through 21 games but went 6-2-6 in its final 14 contests of the regular season. The Warcats clinched the top seed for the Blue Jackets Cup with an 8-1 win over Athens on Feb. 9.
The remaining seeds were finalized Feb. 13, when Newark defeated PHA 4-2.
"(Clinching early) was not a big focus. There's a tendency for complacency when you know something is locked up," Bloomberg said. "We're focused on getting better ourselves. That said, it was nice to know (going into this past weekend) that we'd clinched."
As the top two seeds, Westerville and Northeast earned first-round byes. Westerville plays Hilliard or PHA in a second-round game Friday, Feb. 21, at the Ice Haus, immediately after Northeast plays Newark or Athens in the second round.
Christopher Spies and Austin English give Westerville a strong one-two offensive punch, as Spies has 44 goals and English has 36 in 35 games. Through 38 games for Northeast, Taylor Farthing had 37 goals and Jeremy Judis had 21.
Westerville and Northeast have faced each other four times this season. The teams tied at 2 on Nov. 15 and tied at 6 on Feb. 15, but the Warcats beat the Storm by a 4-3 score on Dec. 8 and Feb. 1.
"You can't depend on anybody to beat anybody," Hilliard coach Wade Bartley said. "The league's been exciting, actually. You never know what will happen now. Whoever comes out harder should win, but there's been so much parity. I'm excited to see what (this) weekend has in store."
Hilliard, which broke a two-game losing streak with a 9-1 win over Athens on Feb. 14, is 9-15-9 overall.
Patrick Feldkamp led the Wildcats with 14 goals through 32 games, followed by Kyle Antal with nine and Tate Bowen with eight.
The Blue Jackets Cup championship game will take place at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, at Chiller North. If a second championship game is needed, it will be played at 8:50 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24, at Chiller Easton.