An experienced group has helped ease Steve Otto's transition from assistant to first-year coach of the Thomas Worthington High School hockey team.
Otto was an assistant under Don Harper last season, when the Cardinals finished 22-13-1 overall. They lost to sixth-seeded Dublin Coffman 3-2 in the second round of the district tournament after beating Beavercreek 11-1 in the first round.
"Many of these kids have played here three and four years, and they know what it means to play in this league," Otto said. "It makes my job easier, and they know what's expected of them."
Thomas went 8-8-1 in the Capital Hockey Conference-White Division last season to finish third behind Upper Arlington (14-2-1) and Olentangy Orange (13-4) and ahead of Olentangy (5-12) and Gahanna (2-15).
DeSales and St. Charles now are in the CHC-White with Thomas and Orange.
The Cardinals return their top two scorers from a year ago in senior forward Will Byars (32 goals, 37 assists) and junior forward Tommy Pischel (28, 25).
"As a senior, you have more responsibility and that's the biggest change," Byars said. "It's your year (as a senior) and the success of the season rides on how you do in practice and how hard you work. People are following your lead instead of you following someone else as in previous seasons."
Returning in goal are seniors Jonathan Highley and Sean Lima. Also back are seniors Sam Bachmann (forward; 11, 16), Nicholas Highley (defenseman; 5, 9), Brett McCarthy (defenseman) and Quintin Schomaker (defenseman), juniors Kevin Hill (forward), Riley Mahoney (forward; 5, 6) and Liam Martin (defenseman) and sophomore Dominic Caminiti (forward).
"(The senior) leadership has been helping the younger players during drills and they let them know what they need to get out of (the drills)," Otto said. "They are like coaches on the ice for us."
Rounding out the roster are junior defenseman Kevin Sholes, sophomore forward Mara Muehlheim, freshman forward Christopher Kocheran and freshman forward Nathan Viebranz.
"We really care about each other and are really team-oriented instead of being a bunch of individuals," Bachmann said. "We're willing to mix up the lines if we have to in order to make the team better."
The Cardinals lost to Cincinnati St. Xavier 3-0 in the Red Division championship game of the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic on Nov. 25 at Chiller Dublin. They opened by beating Olentangy 9-1 on Nov. 23 before defeating Perrysburg 10-0 and Cincinnati Elder 5-1 on Nov. 24, also in the Thanksgiving classic.
"I think we have good chemistry and relationships on the team," Pischel said. "It helps having coach Otto (taking over) because he is familiar with the program and the players. We didn't have to come out and show him what we could do. He knew that coming in."