Before joining the Northeast Storm, Jeremy Judis spent plenty of time on the road playing for a travel team in Findlay last season.

Before joining the Northeast Storm, Jeremy Judis spent plenty of time on the road playing for a travel team in Findlay last season.

He opted to stay closer to home this winter and joined several friends from the area who play for the Storm, which is the defending state champion playing out of the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League.

"It was just the thought of having a chance to win a state title and play some good hockey," the sophomore forward from New Albany said of his decision.

It's looking like the Storm will get a chance to defend its state title and give Judis the opportunity he was seeking. It recently scored key league victories on consecutive nights and added a third in a non-league game the following day to improve to 12-15-2 overall and solidify its fourth-place spot in the GCHSCHL at 7-6-2 and 16 points heading into a Friday, Jan. 27, game against Westerville at Chiller Ice Works. The third-place Warcats, who topped Northeast 8-4 on Dec. 4 after dropping the first game 4-3 on Oct. 29, are 9-6 in the league with 18 points.

The Storm defeated Athens 7-2 on Jan. 20 and PRPC 6-3 on Jan. 21 to move five points ahead of the fifth-place Ice Prowlers, who slipped to 5-8-1 with 11 points in the league. Judis totaled six points in those two games, which included three goals and an assist against Athens. James Merriman, another newcomer who did not play a year ago because of an injury, had seven points in the two games, including five goals. Zach Turner and Matt Maldovan had three points apiece against PRPC as the Storm completed that league series with a 2-1-1 advantage.

The top four teams in the GCHSCHL qualify for the state tournament in March. Hilliard is 12-1-1 with 25 points and second-place Newark is 9-3-2 with 20 points. The Storm will play the Generals, who won the first game 6-1 on Dec. 8 before tying Northeast at 2 on Jan. 7, at the OhioHealth Ice Haus on Saturday, Jan. 28.

"Our record (is) 7-1-1 since (the start of January)," said first-year coach Andrew Kieta, whose team defeated the Eagles 8-3 on Jan. 22 to wrap up another strong weekend after also winning the Hoosier Cup tournament on Jan. 14 and 15 in Fort Wayne, Ind. "We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but I think the past few weeks have been the result of a total buy-in from all of our players, which has only increased when they see the results of playing for each other instead of themselves."

Hayden Cook, a third-year varsity player, said a 3-5-1 start in league play clearly has been forgotten.

"We had some problems in November and December," the senior forward said. "Something just happened, and the tournament (in Fort Wayne) really gave us a chance to come together. Now we're more of a team on the ice and off the ice."

The Storm has five and PRPC has six league games remaining. Northeast also plays Newark (Feb. 2), Westerville (Feb. 3) and Hilliard (Feb. 10), which routed the Storm 13-1 in the Oct. 16 league opener and won subsequent matchups on Nov. 13 (7-2) and Nov. 20 (9-1).

During its 7-1-1 run this month, however, the Storm outscored its opponents by a combined 46-19. It surrendered only one goal in three of the four games played in the Hoosier Cup, where Northeast avenged an earlier loss by defeating the Plymouth (Mich.) Whalers 6-1 in the final.

"Our defense really stepped up," Cook said.

And whereas Judis has cut his travel time to play his favorite sport, Cook makes one of the longer drives on the team by commuting from Liberty Union.

"It's kind of tough with our late practices," he said. "It's about a half hour in and another half hour home. Sometimes it'll be midnight after I drop off one of our other players (Maldovan) from out here, but it's definitely worth it when things come together like last year and now this year."