Third-year Prowler Hockey Association club team coach Bob McElheney is preaching patience early this season.
The Prowlers are coming off a season in which they finished 23-18-7 overall and were state runners-up, losing to Dayton 8-1 in the Buckeye Cup final.
"We lost a lot of our (offensive) production from last year, so with younger kids and many newcomers, it's going to take them some time to build the chemistry and find their identity," McElheney said.
"It's a talented group, but they're just chipping away at things right now."
The Prowlers are 9-5-1 overall and 2-4-1 in the Ohio Scholastic Hockey League -- formerly known as the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League -- entering a game against Hilliard on Friday, Dec. 1, at Chiller Easton.
Seeded fifth in the 12-team Buckeye Cup, PHA went 2-0-1 in pool play and defeated Medina 3-1 in a semifinal before falling to Dayton in its fifth game in three days.
The Prowlers went 9-10-5 (23 points) in GCHSCHL to place fourth, behind Dayton (45, 21-0-3), Newark (34, 14-4-6) and Westerville (27, 13-10-1) and ahead of Northeast (22, 10-12-2), Hilliard (16, 7-15-2) and Athens (1, 0-23-1).
Returning after playing significant roles last season are senior forwards Brody Beckwith (Canal Winchester) and Ryan O'Callaghan (Pickerington North), senior defensemen Devin Hux (Pickerington Central) and Will Jones (North) and sophomore defenseman Garrett Bowers (Reynoldsburg).
Last season in league play, O'Callaghan scored seven goals and was the team's co-leader in assists with 13, and Beckwith had four goals and three assists.
More production is needed, and expected, from those two this season as the Prowlers lost their leading scorer in forward Connor Liden (team-high 31 goals, 7 assists) as well as first-line forward Kyle Wojciechowski and second-line forwards Dalton McElwain, Mark Maldovan and Paul King to graduation.
Maldovan had 14 goals in league play last season.
The Prowlers also lost goaltenders Joe Ackley and Ben Dunlap. In league play last season, Ackley went 4-7-3 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage, and Dunlap went 5-3-2 with a 3.30 GAA and an .869 save percentage.
Ackley is now playing with the Wooster Generals of the NA3HL.
"We have eight new forwards, one new defenseman and two new goalies," McElheney said. "We've got senior Tyler Dorian (Central) and junior Spencer Jolley (Delaware Area Career Center) in goal now sharing time. Neither has taken over the top spot, but neither has let it slip away. They're both doing solid jobs and we can rely on both.
"We have three exceptional defensemen in Bowers, Hux and Jones. Hux is a third-time captain and Bowers is a shutdown guy who has some offensive firepower and is a smart kid."
O'Callaghan and Beckwith are joined on the first line by senior Deric Richison, a home-schooled student in the Groveport school district.
The second line is comprised of senior Caleb Marsh (North), sophomore Chase Minor (North) and freshman Brandon Hux (Central).
McElheney also has been impressed by junior forward Noah Sherman (Reynoldsburg).
"Noah was a j.v. kid last year, but his game has really, really grown," McElheney said. "He's a grinder worth his weight in gold. He's really found his niche."
Completing the roster are seniors Jordan Crawford (North, defenseman), Tyler Giles (Reynoldsburg, forward) and Brandon Wise (Hartley, forward), junior Caden Albert (North, forward), sophomores Logan Beckwith (Canal Winchester, defenseman), Gabe Gatewood (Watkins Memorial, forward) and Paxton Waits (Licking Heights, forward) and freshman Sam Mills (Central, defenseman).
Sept. 16 -- Jackson at Chiller Easton
Oct. 1 -- Cincinnati Indian Hill and Miami at Goggin Ice Center in Oxford
Oct. 6-8 -- Pittsburgh-Columbus Day Clash at Ice Castle Arena in Pittsburgh
Oct. 15 -- Columbus U18 at OhioHealth Ice Haus
*Oct. 28 -- Westerville at Chiller Easton
*Oct. 29 -- Dayton at Kettering Ice Arena
*Nov. 2 -- Newark at Lou & Gib Reese Ice Arena
*Nov. 4 -- Dayton at Taft Coliseum
*Nov. 11 -- Northeast at Chiller Easton
*Nov. 17 -- Northeast at Chiller Easton
*Nov. 19 -- Westerville at Taft Coliseum
*Dec. 1 -- Hilliard at Chiller Easton
Dec. 3 -- Fremont and North Royalton at Alice Noble Ice Arena in Wooster
*Dec. 9 -- Athens at Chiller Easton
*Dec. 10 -- Westerville at Taft Coliseum
*Dec. 16 -- Hilliard at Chiller Dublin
*Dec. 17 -- Athens at Bird Arena
*Dec. 22 -- Newark at Chiller North
*Dec. 29 -- Hilliard at Chiller Dublin
*Dec. 30 -- Northeast at Taft Coliseum
*Jan. 6 -- Dayton at Taft Coliseum
*Jan. 20 -- Athens at Taft Coliseum
*Jan. 21 -- Westerville at Taft Coliseum
*Jan. 26 -- Athens at Bird Arena
*Jan. 28 -- Hilliard at Taft Coliseum
*Feb. 3 -- Newark at Taft Coliseum
*Feb. 4 -- Northeast at Taft Coliseum
*Feb. 8 -- Newark at Lou & Gib Reese Ice Arena
*Feb. 11 -- Dayton at Chiller Springfield