Whether it is explicitly discussed or not, coaches understand that any successful season requires a little bit of luck.

Whether it is explicitly discussed or not, coaches understand that any successful season requires a little bit of luck.

Particularly in hockey, where injuries are always a concern and game-changing goals often result from fortuitous deflections, some luck is essential. Although coach Joe Tonello isn't one to make excuses, he said his team's recent lull is not necessarily a sign that the Prowlers are headed in the wrong direction.

"We need a couple breaks," Tonello said. "The kids are working hard, the opportunities are presenting themselves, and we're just not capitalizing on some of the opportunities. It's catching up to us. It's been frustrating for the team because they're working hard and don't have a lot to show for it."

A mid-season "funk," as Tonello described it, is a relative term for the Prowlers. PRPC has reached the Buckeye Cup each year since it began in 2005, and the team is currently in position to finish in the top four and earn a spot once again. But in January, the Prowlers have not been able to elevate in the standings, going 1-2-3 during the month.

With two more weekends of regular-season action left, PRPC sits in fourth at 7-8-7 with 21 points. Athens holds the top spot at 12-5-4 with 28 points, followed by Hilliard (10-3-7, 28) and Newark (8-5-6, 22). Westerville is fifth (5-12-4, 14), followed by Northeast (4-13-3, 11).

Coaches and players around the league have said they believe the league is as competitive as ever from top-to-bottom, which means finishing in the top three is a priority for PRPC. A team in fourth could miss out on a trip to the Buckeye Cup if the fifth- or sixth-place team wins the Blue Jackets Cup.

"We want to at least secure third," Tonello said. "And we had a chance to move closer to second with our last few games but ended up coming up short. Now we've got to put a little bit more pressure on ourselves to battle back and get that third spot, which we believe we can."

The Prowlers believe their fortunes may be changing after they scored two goals in the final two minutes to tie Hilliard at 3 last Friday. Both goals came after Tonello pulled the goalie to give the team a 6-on-5 advantage.

Injuries certainly have had an effect on the Prowlers this season. The most crucial was the loss of goalie Jeremiah Holland, who missed six weeks in December and early January. Holland was the league leader in save percentage last season. Erik Heinmiller moved into the starting role with Holland out, although Drake Holdren moved up from the junior varsity and saw significant action as well.

Heinmiller currently has an 87.0 save percentage.

"I really got a taste of what it's like to be the only goalie," Heinmiller said. "There's a lot of pressure, but I tried to respond to it and play well, and I think I did."

Tonello said the team has looked increasingly comfortable in the offensive zone, even if the scores have not always reflected it. The Prowlers have been generating enough scoring opportunities, and he said he believes it is simply a matter of time before they begin to finish more of those chances.

The Prowlers are averaging 2.45 goals per game, and they have been led offensively by Kyle Hyer (10 goals, four assists), Nathan Billups (nine goals, nine assists), Jake Miller (eight goals, nine assists) and Kyle Baughman (six goals, 17 assists).

Defensively, Tonello said the team has had its ups and downs.

"We've shown signs of brilliance, and other times we look like we just learned the system and what we want to do in the defensive zone," Tonello said. "We need more consistency defensively."

The Prowlers are hoping to catch a few more breaks in the final stretch of the regular season, but Miller said they also need to elevate their level of play in order to secure their sixth consecutive trip to the Buckeye Cup.

"I feel we've been playing well, but we could be playing better," Jake Miller said. "We need to get our heads together and show that we're a better hockey team than we've been showing."