The Cardinals' Ryan Gratz (left) shoots the puck while being defended by Gahanna's Jeremy Salls on Jan. 21.

The Cardinals' Ryan Gratz (left) shoots the puck while being defended by Gahanna's Jeremy Salls on Jan. 21.

Don Harper has eased up a little on the Thomas Worthington High School hockey team.

The second-year coach recently made some practice changes and the results have been positive. Last weekend, the Cardinals beat Olentangy 5-0 on Jan. 27 before playing the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division's top teams in the two days that followed.

Thomas lost to second-place Olentangy Orange 3-2 on Jan. 28 before tying division-leading Upper Arlington at 2 on Jan. 29 to improve to 20-10-1 overall and 8-7-1 in the CHC.

"We have been off and on this season, but fortunately more on than off," said Harper, whose team closes the regular season Saturday, Feb. 4, against DeSales at Chiller Easton. "The guys are tired, they need a breather. We have changed practice around a little, cutting Tuesday practices for the last couple of weeks. They've been playing at least three games every weekend for seven weekends in a row. That's hard on their bodies and down time is good for them."

The return of goaltender Jonathan Highley provided a boost as the Cardinals tied UA, which was third in last week's district poll behind co-leaders Dublin Jerome and Olentangy Liberty. Highley had 34 saves in his first game since sustaining a concussion in a 6-1 loss to Orange on Jan. 20. He missed four games.

The Cardinals had lost to UA 4-3 on Jan. 22.

"It was just an amazing game and Jon played incredibly well in goal, as did Sean Lima (29 saves) in the tough loss to Orange," Harper said. "Jon passed a stick-and-puck test (on Jan. 27) and that meant he was ready to get back in net."

The Cardinals had lost to the Pioneers 6-1 on Jan. 20.

"This year's group is a little more relaxed than last year," Harper said. "They keep their heads in the game and have been playing good hockey."

UA leads the CHC-White at 13-2-1 (27 points). Orange is second (10-3, 20), followed by Thomas (8-7-1, 17), Olentangy (3-11, 6) and Gahanna (1-13, 2). UA could clinch the league title with a win over Worthington Kilbourne on Saturday, Feb. 4. Orange would need to win its final four league games and have UA lose to Kilbourne to win the title.

Thomas has qualified for the Blue Jackets Cup Championship Division after winning the Consolation Division trophy for the last two years. In the three-division CHC, the top four teams from the Red Division, the top three teams from the White Division and the top team from the Blue Division qualify for the Blue Jackets Cup, which will be held Feb. 9-12 at various Chiller facilities.

The Cardinals defeated DeSales 4-0 in the consolation final last season as they finished 14-13-2 overall.

"It has been a lot better this year," said sophomore forward Tommy Pischel, who had a goal in the tie with UA. "We have had good senior leadership and we have been better all-around. We worked hard in the offseason to get better."

Junior forward Will Byars leads the Cardinals in scoring with 31 goals and 32 assists, followed by Pischel (25 goals, 24 assists), senior defenseman Kyle Gratz (19 goals, 16 assists), senior forward Harrison Cohan (15 goals, 19 assists), junior forward Sam Bachmann (11 goals, 15 assists), sophomore forward Riley Mahoney (5 goals, 6 assists), junior defenseman Nicholas Highley (3 goals, 9 assists) and senior forward Graham Nadler (4 goals, 3 assists).

Nadler tore his left calf muscle during practice last week.

"We're not sure how long Graham may be out," Harper said. "But he's in good spirits and keeping the kids up in the locker room. He's been good to have around."

Nadler said he has been watching from the bench, picking up on things that will help him when he gets back on the ice.

"I broke my femur in half during my sophomore year and now I've torn my calf muscle. We're working to get me back, maybe as early as (this) weekend," he said. "I'm in a boot and can't skate, but I go to practice and do what I can. Being away makes me want to be out there more.

"But when I'm on the bench, I can see how the game moves. I can see what's happening on the ice. It seems like sometimes you have more time out there than you think you do. You can slow down and make a better pass or shot."