Five seniors are being counted on to lead a young Thomas Worthington High School hockey team short on varsity experience.
Senior forward Tom Pischel, who had 28 goals and 21 assists last season as the Cardinals' leading scorer, already is seeing progress.
"We're improving a lot from where we were over the summer until now," said Pischel, whose team finished 12-17-1 overall last season after losing to St. Charles 4-1 in the second round of the district tournament. "Coming into this year, we had some guys who struggled with the basic fundamentals and they have been getting that down and (now) we can work more on strategic parts of the game."
Other seniors are goaltender Zach Graham, forward Kevin Hill (3 goals, 2 assists last season), forward Riley Maloney (4 goals, 5 assists) and defenseman Liam Martin. Junior forward Dominic Caminiti had four goals and five assists last season.
"They have been the backbone of our team," second-year coach Steve Otto, whose squad has 17 players, said of his seniors "They have been good leaders and have a lot of playing time.
"I like our energy and the kids have been working hard. We have been playing well overall."
Also back are junior forward Mara Muehlheim and sophomore forwards Christopher Kocheran (3 goals, 3 assists) and Nathan Viebranz.
Rounding out the roster are sophomores Chris DeMarco (goalie), Dane Geitter (defenseman) and Joey Mechling (defenseman) and freshmen Henry Bare (defenseman), Joey Pischel (forward), Isaac Short (defenseman), Bradlee Tilton (defenseman) and Kelley Walrath (defenseman).
"We have a younger team, so we have focused a little more on fundamentals in skating and going back to the basics," Otto said. "We're working to get up to speed with the high school game and we have started to work on our offensive and defensive assignments."
Thomas opened Nov. 23 with a 13-2 win over Dublin Scioto in a Capital Hockey Conference-Blue Division game before losing to Beavercreek 6-5 on Nov. 24.
The Cardinals will not be the host team this season for the MLK Tournament on Jan. 18-21 at Chiller North. Olentangy Orange now is the host team.
The Cardinals finished fourth (9 points, 4-11-1) in the CHC-White a year ago behind champion Orange (28, 14-2). Thomas now is in the CHC-Blue with Worthington Kilbourne, Scioto, Olentangy and Watterson.
"(Moving to the CHC-Blue) might be more competitive for us," Otto said. "We might take our lumps this season, but I like the move with our young group."