The Hilliard/Southwest hockey team has overcome a slow start brought about by a plethora of new starters and having its third coach in as many seasons.

The Hilliard/Southwest hockey team has overcome a slow start brought about by a plethora of new starters and having its third coach in as many seasons.

The Wildcats were seeking stability after losing 13 graduates from a team which finished under .500 overall and in the GCHSCHL last season.

Jim Jones took over this season and Hilliard opened league play 0-4-1. Now the Wildcats are 17-6-5 overall and 3-4-1 in the GCHSCHL.

"With all the potential we had, I felt last year was a year for Hilliard to excel. It was crushing to end up the way we did last year," said Jones, who was an assistant coach a year ago.

"I'm not surprised at our record having seen how hard the kids have worked in practice. We won three league games in a row after starting 0-4-1 so I think everything's heading in the right direction. And I don't think (they players) have hit their peak yet."

Things look great now but the beginning of the season was not as rosy. In addition to starting out winless in its first five league games, the team had to deal with injuries to forwards Chris Alverson (broke right foot) and Thomas Chase (back) that kept the duo out of action for a while. Chase returned two weeks ago and Alverson started practicing late last week.

During that start the Wildcats lost to traditional league powers PRPC (4-3 on Nov. 16), Westerville (4-3 on Nov. 21) and Newark (4-2 on Nov. 23). A week off and an appearance in the St. Charles Thanksgiving Tournament represented the start of a turnaround for Hilliard. The Wildcats won all four of their games in the tournament, including 3-0 over last year's league champion Olentangy and 5-2 over DeSales, a varsity-level team.

Since then Hilliard has won league games over PRPC (3-2 on Dec. 5) and Athens (4-0 on Dec. 19) and defeated varsity teams Dublin Scioto (7-4 on Dec. 12), Olentangy Orange (4-1 on Dec. 13; 5-1 on Dec. 14) and Centerville (7-1 on Dec. 14).

"The beginning kind of hurt their confidence a bit," Jones said. "But the team adapted and fought through it. All it takes is getting that one big win over a key opponent. Now we've won 11 of our last 13 games so (the team's) confidence is growing every game."

One thing Jones has done to help the team has been the addition of dry-land training before every practice. Jones thinks the dry-land training has helped give the players better and quicker footwork as well as more strength.

"It has given our team, as a whole, more stamina and the ability to come out on top during the tough games that come down to the third period," forward Matt Wilson said.

Better communication on the ice as well as added depth has also played a large role in the surge. Jones said the team has four lines that are interchangeable.

"Having that depth helps us a lot," Alverson said.

"It's a big part of the game because with it we can keep rolling through teams."

Now the Wildcats look to remain consistent. Last year the team, lost most of its games in the first one-third of the season, then won often in the middle part of the schedule only to lose eight of its last 10 in the regular season.

"That's something I've thought about a lot," Jones said.

"But these kids play so well as a team. We were more of a team two weeks into the season than than they ever were last year. They weren't a team last year. It was just a group of individuals and I think that helped take the team down. We've done some team-building activities and it's helped them mature and they're playing great."

The Wildcats will play Friday against the rejuvenated Northeast Storm at the Dispatch Ice Haus and then will travel Saturday to play defending Buckeye Cup state champions Athens at Bird Arena.

The Storm has already won four games in the GCHSCHL after winning just one in the last three years combined.

"I think we'll be able to be one of the top teams in the league by the end of the season," defenseman Adam Jones said. "I definitely think we're capable of winning the league."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Hilliard/Southwest hockey team:

*Dec. 5 -- Defeated PRPC 3-2

Dec. 12 -- Def. Dublin Scioto 7-4 in Adam Allgeyer Tournament

Dec. 13 -- Def. Olentangy Orange 4-1 in Allgeyer

Dec. 14 -- Def. Centerville 7-1; def. Olentangy Orange 5-1 in Allgeyer final

Dec. 19 -- Def. Athens 4-0

*Friday -- At Ice Haus vs. Northeast Storm

*Saturday -- At Athens

Of note: The Wildcats are 17-6-5 overall and 3-4-1 in the GCHSCHL.