The Westerville club hockey team left the ice dejected after a 2-1 loss to the PHA Prowlers on Jan. 28, but coach Brian Thompson was quick to point out the Warcats still control their destiny for postseason play.
The Warcats are 21-12-2 overall and 11-8-1 in the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League. Westerville is third in league with 23 points, behind Dayton (39 points, 18-0-3) and Newark (24, 10-3-4), and the top three teams qualify for the state tournament.
The Warcats lead Northeast (19, 9-7-1) and PHA (17, 6-10-5) in the battle for the final state berth.
"We're in good shape," Thompson said. "We would have liked to separate ourselves a little bit from (PHA) because they're right behind us, but I like our chance going into the tournament, especially if we continue to play this way."
Westerville has four games remaining, beginning with a contest Friday, Feb. 3, against Athens at OhioHealth Ice Haus.
The team's eight seniors were recognized before the game Jan. 28. The group includes Westerville South's Victor Runyon, who is closing out a five-year career in the program.
Runyon played for the team in eighth grade before a rule was put in place stating only high school students could participate.
"I can't believe this is almost over," Runyon said. "It's a pretty scary thought. I don't want to think about it, but it had to end at some point. ... We definitely plan on playing in the state tournament."
Chiller North was packed with fans for the game against PHA.
"This was fantastic, it was nothing like I've seen before," Runyon said. "I've been playing in this league for five years and I've never seen anything quite like this. It's very impressive for all the people who put in a lot of hard work into this night and it came out better than I even could imagine."
The Warcats' offense has been led by sophomore Grant Dickerson (31 goals, 18 assists), senior Evan Ingram (22 goals, 24 assists) and Runyon (22 goals, 15 assists).
Sophomore goalie Sean Coonfare is 11-9-2 with a 2.67 goals-against average.
Dickerson scored off an assist from Ingram against PHA.
"This (loss) hurts," Thompson said. "It was a good hockey game. It's fun to play in those. The band came out, you get all the friends and family and there was actually an atmosphere and the boys worked hard. They deserved a little better fate, but unfortunately that's how it goes sometimes."
The league tournament, known as the Blue Jackets Cup, begins Feb. 17. The regular-season league champion earns a first-round bye in the double-elimination event.
The 12-team state tournament, the Buckeye Cup, will be held March 10-12.
Westerville finished 23-18-4 overall last season and went 13-8-3 (29 points) in the league to secure the GCHSCHL's third and final berth in the state tournament, where the Warcats went 1-2.