Warcats peaking at right time
The Westerville club hockey team has been streaky this season.
The Warcats won 11 of their first 12 games but lost six of their next eight contests before winning nine of their next 13.
Fortunately for Westerville, it appears to be peaking at an opportune time, as it has won its last three Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League games by a combined score of 24-7 to stay in contention for the league championship.
With four league contests remaining, the Warcats are second in the GCHSCHL at 11-5 (22 points), behind Hilliard (12-3-1, 25) and ahead of Newark (8-2-3, 19), Northeast (5-8-2, 12), PRPC (5-10, 10) and Athens (0-13, 0).
Westerville plays Northeast on Jan. 27 and Feb. 17, Newark on Feb. 8 and Hilliard on Feb. 16. The top four teams in the GCHSCHL qualify for the Buckeye Cup state tournament, which will be held in March.
The Warcats are seeking their first regular-season league championship, which first was awarded in the 2008-09 season. Newark won the first two titles, followed by PRPC in 2010-11 and Hilliard last season.
Westerville, however, has won two championships for the GCHSCHL tournament, known as the Blue Jackets Cup. It accomplished the feat in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.
"Winning our league would mean a lot to us because that's the biggest goal for our whole season and that's what we've been working for all year," forward Tyler Ahearn said. "I feel like we can win it if we keep playing the way we have the past three (league) games. We've already beaten every team in our league at least once this year."
In its past three GCHSHL contests, Westerville beat Athens 7-3 on Jan. 5, defeated Newark 9-1 on Jan. 10 and beat PRPC 8-3 on Jan. 13.
Against Newark, forward Jacob English had four goals, defenseman Vincent Murdock scored two, forward Tyler Ramsey had one goal and three assists, forward Chris Spies had three assists and Ahearn and forward Trey Woods each scored one goal.
Forward Luke Andracki had two goals and English, Murdock, Ramsey, Spies, forward Cody Knight and forward Austin Siemer each scored one against PRPC.
The Warcats had lost to Newark 4-0 on Nov. 9 and 1-0 on Dec. 13 and had lost to PRPC 5-1 on Oct. 12.
"Our win at Newark was huge because we've never blown them out of the rink like that before, especially in front of their own fans," Ramsey said. "Winning our last three league games the way we did gives us a big confidence boost that we can win our league. We just need to stay focused because we lost our focus for a while in the middle of the season."
Westerville has battled injuries and illnesses throughout the season, as only two of its players played in each of its first 33 games.
The Warcats have been healthy since returning from their six-day holiday break and, as a result of adding Andracki to their roster prior to their 27th game, have been able to utilize three forward lines.
Andracki, a junior at Watterson, was ineligible to play for the Eagles' varsity squad after transferring from St. Charles earlier in the school year.
"Everything's falling into place for us," Ramsey said. "Luke is fast and handles the puck well and he's brought a lot of energy to our team and strengthened it as a whole. With everyone getting healthy, we have three strong lines and we're scoring more goals."
English was leading the Warcats in scoring through 33 games with 28 goals and 30 assists, followed by Spies (21 goals, 17 assists), Murdock (16 goals, 20 assists), Ramsey (15 goals, 20 assists), defenseman Brendan Kremer (8 goals, 16 assists) and Siemer (9 goals, 12 assists).
Starting goaltender Tyler Plas had a 16-10 record with a .890 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against average. His backup, Eric Wilhelm, was 6-1 with a .818 save percentage and a 3.13 GAA.
"We've got a lot of different guys scoring for us and our defense has been pretty strong," Ahearn said. "We're starting to come together and, if we keep working hard, we'll be tough to beat."