Seventeen seniors guided the Upper Arlington High School hockey team to a 22-15-1 overall record and the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division title last year, marking its first winning season since 2006-07.
This season, the Golden Bears not only must overcome the experience they lost to graduation, but they must do so while competing in a more challenging league, the CHC-Red, with a total of 16 players.
“There’s so much we have to replace that every single guy on this team has to pull their full share to get the job done,” senior forward Derrick Galantowicz said. “In our first (scrimmage), we came out really strong and fast. I’m really excited for this year.”
UA won the CHC-White last year at 14-2-1 (29 points), finishing ahead of Olentangy Orange (13-4, 26), Thomas Worthington (8-8-1, 17), Olentangy (5-12, 10) and Gahanna (2-15, 4). The Bears earned the third seed in the district tournament and opened with a 4-3 win over Centerville in a first-round game before losing to sixth-seeded Dublin Coffman 8-1 in the second round.
“We lost 17 seniors, but what we kept, we have lots of talent,” 14th-year coach Jay Graham said. “We’re much faster than we were last year. We’re very excited about what this team has the potential to do. We’re going to miss those guys, obviously, with their experience and leadership. But we’ve got a different attitude this year in terms of guys really, really working hard. They have to because we have fewer numbers. We really are pushing the pace as much as we can. It’s been an enjoyable first few weeks.”
UA lost its top four scorers from a year ago in forwards Patrick Goth (20 goals, 12 assists) Matt Beebe (18 goals, 19 assists), Max Collins (17 goals, 10 assists) and Brian Helscel (15 goals, 16 assists). The top returning scorer is senior forward Jack Whitman, who had 11 goals and 16 assists.
The other returnees are senior forward Brent Savan and senior goaltender Richard Griffin.
Whitman is expected to play on the Bears’ top line with freshman Danny Logan and sophomore Jason Schumacher. Logan had six goals in the Bears’ four scrimmages.
“Working with Danny and Jason has been great,” Whitman said. “They have a great sense for the game. They can pass, they can shoot. They know where I am (on the ice) and I know where they are.”
Rounding out the team are juniors Carter Braet (forward), Evan Lewis (forward), Owen McLellan (forward), Connor Miles (defense), Reid Neri (defense) and Zac Richards (forward), sophomores Cole Abbott (goalie), Brian Lee (defenseman) and Cam Walker (defenseman) and freshman Cole Kaparos (defenseman).
Richards is the son of Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards.
Griffin made 203 saves and allowed 31 goals (.868 save percentage) in 12 games last season while sharing time in goal with 2012 graduates Geoff Chidester and Greg Doub.
UA opened in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic held Nov. 23-25 at Chiller North, going 3-1.
The Bears defeated Hilliard 2-0 on Nov. 23 and beat Oakville (Ontario) Abbey Park 4-3 and Zionsville (Ind.) 6-2 on Nov. 24 before losing to Carmel (Ind.) 3-2 on Nov. 25.
UA begins league play against Olentangy Liberty on Dec. 7 at OhioHealth Ice Haus. Also in the CHC-Red are Cincinnati Moeller, Coffman and Dublin Jerome. Last season, Coffman and Liberty were district semifinalists and Jerome was district runner-up, losing to Orange in the final 3-2 in four overtimes.
“I like playing the best competition in the league,” Whitman said. “I think we can play with them and hopefully come out on top.”