Trailing 2-0, the Newark Generals had little remaining margin for error during its Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League game against the Westerville Warcats last Thursday in the Lou & Gib Reese Ice Arena, and anything but a victory would not have sufficed on "Joey Smart Night."

Trailing 2-0, the Newark Generals had little remaining margin for error during its Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League game against the Westerville Warcats last Thursday in the Lou & Gib Reese Ice Arena, and anything but a victory would not have sufficed on "Joey Smart Night."

No problem.

Gabe Parini scored a tying goal with 6 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the second period off an assist from Peter York, and the defending state champion Generals netted three more in the final period to post a 5-2 win that ensured they will return to the state tournament for a third consecutive season.

"The boys are playing with a real mission right now," said coach Don Jennings, whose team improved to 8-5-6 in the league with 22 points while locking up no less than a fourth-place finish.

That mission included a fundraiser for Smart's family, and team officials collected $2,000 for the cause. Smart, a sophomore forward from Heath, has not played in several weeks and remains in Children's Hospital in Columbus with a yet-to-be-determined illness.

Another fundraiser will be held when the Generals play host to the Athens Bobcats on Thursday. Items to be raffled off include a Columbus Blue Jackets jersey and stick signed by the entire team and a signed framed picture of former Ohio State Heisman Trophy winner Howard "Hopalong" Cassady. Those and other items have been donated by Tri-County Chrysler Dodge Jeep.

"It's been a pretty good night," Jennings said after Clay Beckholt, Parini and Alex O'Neill scored third-period goals last Thursday.

Christian Hayden had Newark's first goal off an assist from Thomas Nichols, and the defense tightened up after allowing the two early scores as the Generals improved to 5-0-4 in league play since Dec. 10. They were 13-6-6 overall courtesy of an 8-1-4 run before playing last Saturday at Riverside of the Cleveland-based North Coast High School Hockey League.

After allowing 30 combined goals in the opening 10 league games, the Generals have surrendered only 17 now in their past nine with two shutouts, the latest being a 4-0 win over the Northeast Storm on Jan. 17.

"We're working in our pairs, communicating with our goalies and getting the puck out of our end," said defensemen Jack Parker, a senior from Newark Catholic. "Right now, we're playing like we can't lose."

Entering last Friday, Athens led the standings at 12-5-4 with 28 points while the Hilliard/Southwest Wildcats were second at 10-3-7 with 27 points. The PRPC Ice Prowlers were in fourth place at 7-8-6 with 20 points. Each team plays 25 league games this season.

"We're in third place," Jennings said. "The goal now is to get to second and then, well, maybe even first. Our goal is to win out."

•FOOTBALL -- Newark Catholic senior offensive lineman Josh Hendershot, who has made a verbal commitment to play at Toledo, has been selected to play in the Ohio All-Star Classic. The nation's longest-running all-star game, the event is usually played in the summer but has been moved to April 23 in Ohio Stadium the day before Ohio State's annual spring game.

•BOWLING -- The Lakewood boys team was 8-1 in East Central Conference play entering its final scheduled match last Saturday against Newark. Granville also is 8-1 entering its final match next Saturday against Utica. If the two teams finish in a tie for first place, a deciding match will be held at a neutral site to determine a champion, league coordinator Doug Hohl said last week.

The Newark girls team was 9-0 and already had its title locked up entering its final ECC match last Saturday against Lakewood.