A small roster has Worthington Kilbourne High School hockey coach Tom Erlenbusch looking for ways to get more offensive production.

A small roster has Worthington Kilbourne High School hockey coach Tom Erlenbusch looking for ways to get more offensive production.

The Wolves, who open Friday against Whitehouse Anthony Wayne in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller Dublin, have only 14 players, five fewer than last season.

"We're not a big team numbers-wise, so we can run out of gas, and when that happens, it usually means a loss of offense," said Erlenbusch, who is in his third season. "Defense and goaltending are going to be keys for us, because I expect we'll compete in some low-scoring games. We're just not as strong on the offensive side of the ice."

Kilbourne finished 12-19 overall last season, marking its fifth consecutive losing season. The Wolves lost to Olentangy Liberty 7-1 in the second round of the district tournament after having a first-round bye.

Kilbourne lost five players to graduation, including forward Matt Fischer, who led the team with 31 goals and was named second-team all-Capital Hockey Conference. Twenty-two of his goals came in CHC play, which led the league.

The Wolves lost another key player in forward Hardijs Kupaks, who scored 25 goals last season as a freshman and made honorable mention all-CHC but opted not to return this season.

Kilbourne returns nine letterwinners in seniors Jay Carter (forward), Kyle Downie (defenseman), Mitch Oliver (defenseman) and Brett Taylor (forward), juniors Mark Agner (defenseman) and Joey Jacob (forward) and sophomores Perry Dilley (defenseman), Andrew Dowler (forward) and Joe Fischer (forward).

Oliver had 16 goals last season and made second-team all-league. Jacob scored eight goals.

"We definitely have smaller numbers this year, but I think we have a lot of heart," Oliver said. "It's more about going out, working hard and having fun."

A key newcomer to the team is senior goaltender Jon Freere, who played for a club team last winter.

"This is his first year with the program," Erlenbusch of the 6-foot-2 Freere. "He's big and he takes up a lot of room in net. He's a butterfly goalie, and he has good side-to-side movement."

Also on the team are four freshmen in Garren Erlenbusch (forward), Nick Marinelli (forward/defenseman), Patrick Roman (forward) and Nathan Walters (forward/defenseman).

"The four freshmen have been playing well and pulling regular shifts," said coach Erlenbusch, who is assisted by Craig Ullman. "They have held their own and are playing well."

"We've been working with the younger players and showing them the direction they need to go," Oliver said. "I'm always talking to the freshmen, both on and off the ice, getting them ready to play."

Kilbourne went 8-8 (17 points) in the CHC last season to place fifth, behind Dublin Coffman (31), Liberty (30), Dublin Jerome (27) and Olentangy (20) and ahead of Gahanna (16), St. Charles (15), Upper Arlington (14), DeSales (12), Thomas Worthington (10), Olentangy Orange (5) and Dublin Scioto (1).

Watterson and Cincinnati Moeller have joined the CHC, bringing the league total to 14 teams. Each team plays each opponent once in league play for a total of 13 league contests.

The Wolves open league play against Moeller on Dec. 18 at Chiller North.

"I'm disappointed with the number of league games we play," coach Erlenbusch said. "We've added two teams and cut the league games down to 13. I'd like to see us play each team twice. I care more about league games than I do about tournaments. I think high school hockey is all about league play. Tournaments are for fun, but leagues are for real.