Brad Bloomberg chose not to overhaul the Westerville high school club hockey team's style of play this season after being promoted to head coach.
After all, he believes his predecessor, Brandon Fackey, had the Warcats on the right track given that they finished 27-19-2 overall last season. Fackey stepped down after leading the program for four seasons.
Bloomberg, who served as an assistant coach for the Warcats the past six seasons, said he has made only one major change to his team's style of play.
"I'm already familiar with our players, so becoming their head coach has been an easy transition," he said. "I'm not as inventive as Brandon was offensively. He liked to take more risks than I do, with players carrying the puck into our opponents' zone by trying to beat them one-on-one or even two-on-one.
"I want to play a simpler game, where we get pucks in deep and grind out scoring opportunities. I also want to be a team that forechecks relentlessly."
The Warcats have thrived under Bloomberg's direction thus far, as they are 9-0-3 overall and 4-0-2 in the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League.
In league play, Westerville has beaten the PHA (formerly known as PRPC) Prowlers (5-3 on Nov. 9), Hilliard (5-3 on Nov. 17), Newark (4-3 on Nov. 21) and Athens (11-0 on Nov. 23) and has tied Newark (2-all on Nov. 3) and Northeast (2-all on Nov. 15).
Its other tie came against the Dayton Stealth, 1-all on Nov. 24.
The Warcats returned their top five scorers from last season in Westerville Central senior forwards Jacob English (36 goals, 43 assists), Christopher Spies (28 goals, 24 assists) and Tyler Ramsey (17 goals, 22 assists), South junior defenseman Vincent Murdock (23 goals, 26 assists) and Oakstone Academy junior defenseman Brendan Kremer (9 goals, 23 assists).
Central senior goaltender Tyler Plas also returned after going 20-17-2 with a 2.80 goals-against average and .883 save percentage last season.
Westerville has six other forwards in Central seniors Tyler Ahearn and Edward Woods, South senior Tristan Freshley, North senior Cody Knight, Central junior Nathan Thatcher and North sophomore Nick Orioli.
The Warcats have three other defensemen in North senior Andrew Simmerman, Central senior Charlie Williams and South sophomore Jacob Hardy, and Central freshman Parker Rodgers is the backup goalie.
"We have a lot of seniors and we have most of our players back from one of the better teams we've had," Bloomberg said. "Our goaltending is very good and we have a lot of depth and talent at every position."
The Warcats are aiming for the GCHSCHL championship. Last season, they finished third in the league at 12-7-1 (25 points), behind champion Hilliard (32, 15-3-2) and Newark (32, 14-2-4) and ahead of Northeast (17, 7-10-3), PRPC (14, 7-13) and Athens (0, 0-20).
Hilliard won the tiebreaker for the GCHSCHL regular-season championship by having one more win than Newark.
"Northeast will probably be our biggest challenge in our league," Bloomberg said. "Hilliard has a lot of depth and talent, too, and Newark is traditionally good, so we'll need to play well to contend for it."
Plas said the Warcats have their eyes on an even bigger prize, however.
Last season, Westerville went 2-2 in the GCHSCHL's Blue Jackets Cup, which Newark won by defeating Hilliard 2-0 in the championship game.
The top four teams in the GCHSCHL's regular-season standings advanced to the 12-team state tournament known as the Buckeye Cup.
The Warcats went 2-1 (8 points) in pool play at state, losing to Fremont 6-1 before beating West Chester Lakota West 4-2 and Mason 3-2, to finish sixth, as Hilliard (13.5), Fremont (13.5), Medina (12.5) and Newark (10) advanced to the semifinals.
Medina went on to defeat Hilliard 3-1 in the state final.
"Our ultimate goal is to win our first state championship," Plas said. "Most of us were part of last year's state-qualifying team, and we're more confident in our team this year because we've been together for a long time. We just need to play aggressive and avoid making too many mistakes."