A year ago, the Olentangy Liberty and Dublin Coffman High School hockey teams established themselves as the class of the Capital Hockey Conference.

A year ago, the Olentangy Liberty and Dublin Coffman High School hockey teams established themselves as the class of the Capital Hockey Conference.

One month into the 2009-10 season, few players and coaches around the league doubted Coffman would be back in the thick of the race for the league title. After all, the Shamrocks won three of the past five league titles and showed no signs of weakness.

It was more uncertain whether or not the Patriots, only in their third season as a varsity program, would be back near the top of the league standings. An injury-riddled Liberty squad started the season 1-7 overall. The Patriots graduated several of their top offensive weapons from last season, and it appeared they simply might not have the horsepower to contend.

But thanks to the return of several injured players, Liberty has pulled off a swift turnaround, winning 11 of its next 15 to improve to 12-10-1 overall. More importantly, the Patriots are 8-0 with 16 points in the CHC as they head into a crucial three-game weekend.

"Definitely having the longer bench has helped," forward Reed Slinger said. "We've been working hard in practice, and we've been able to get our lines set."

Coach Jack Hoogeveen said the early-season injuries allowed some of the younger players to gain valuable experience, which is paying off now.

"I think the experience of the games has really helped the young guys," Hoogeveen said. "Those freshmen and sophomores have really improved."

Liberty certainly is not looking past Friday's game at Chiller North against Worthington Kilbourne and Saturday's game at North against Dublin Scioto, but there is no denying that Sunday's game at North against Coffman is a big one. The Shamrocks were 21-4-2 overall before last Sunday and currently hold the top spot in the CHC at 9-0 with 18 points.

Hoogeveen said he won't try to add any extra emphasis to Sunday's game, but he knows his players will be geared up.

"They know what's at stake, and we just ask them to do their job," Hoogeveen said. "That's all we can ask. They know what they need to do."

The Shamrocks are outscoring their opponents by an average of 2.5 goals, and they have been led offensively by Sam O'Brien, who entered last weekend with 25 goals and 18 assists. Coffman goalie Alex Rogers is considered by many, including Hoogeveen, to be the top goalie in the league. He had a 93.2 save percentage last season and is a major reason the Shamrocks are allowing just 1.73 goals per game this season.

"Their goaltending is phenomenal," defenseman Logan Singleton said. "It's the best in the area. And they also know how to just shut teams down. Once they get ahead, they just keep piling on the goals."

Generating offense will be the biggest challenge for Liberty against Coffman. Forward Nick Zanetos went down with a leg injury Jan. 17 at the Strongsville Ehrnfelt Tournament. With 12 goals on the year, he will leave a major void. Among healthy players, Jimmy Ruska (13 goals) and Ben Saylor (10 goals) have led the way, but Hoogeveen said the Patriots have been getting production from different players and different lines almost every game.

Defensively, Hoogeveen said the return of Robert Koehler has given the Patriots a major boost. Led by defensemen Koehler, Singleton, Pete Leonetti, Anthony Bergamesca, Keaton Allmaras and Gus Olmstead and goalies Bryan Finneran and Nick Kerr, the Patriots are allowing an average of only 1.57 goals in league play.

"Our goal is to be in the top three in the league," Hoogeveen said, "and right now we're headed in that direction."