Upper Arlington High School hockey coach Jay Graham always has stressed the importance of team defense, perhaps even more this season because of the Golden Bears' overall youth and inexperience.

Upper Arlington High School hockey coach Jay Graham always has stressed the importance of team defense, perhaps even more this season because of the Golden Bears' overall youth and inexperience.

Of the team's six defensemen, only three -- juniors Clay Hall and Austin Oberlin and sophomore David Whalen -- played varsity last season and none of the three entered the season with more than one year of varsity experience.

The other three defensemen -- Spence Luallen, Mitch Tulley and Evan Westfall -- are freshmen.

"I'm pretty pleased with the progress our young defensemen have made," Graham said. "I think they're getting better. They're becoming playmakers and doing a pretty good job down low in our zone."

Graham tinkered with his lineup early before settling on the pairings of Hall-Westfall, Oberlin-Tulley and Whalen-Luallen. Each matches a returning letterwinner with a freshman.

"Three of us played last year, but then you have three new guys coming in and we all had new linemates," Oberlin said. "But I think we're starting to mesh pretty well. At first we sort of switched around to see who meshed well with who, but ever since about halfway through the year we've had the same linemates. I think we've finally starting to get it down and starting to mesh."

The Bears allowed six or more goals in seven of their first 11 games. But in their last 18 games, they have not allowed more than five. They have given up more than four goals only three times in that span -- in a 5-1 loss to Oregon Clay on Dec. 20, a 5-3 loss to Greensburg (Pa.) Central Catholic on Dec. 28 and a 5-1 loss to Strongsville on Jan. 16.

But Graham is not satisfied with the defensive improvement. He believes the Bears can be better defensively, and that onus does not fall solely on the shoulders of the defensive corps.

"My main concern right now is our third guy helping out down low, our first (forward) coming back in our zone," he said. "We're trying to make sure that he's picking up the right guy (defensively). There are too many times when we're watching the puck instead of picking up people. That's part of what is hurting us right now -- our team defense.

"Everybody needs to be in position, where they're helping guys out."

From Oberlin's perspective, the Bears' forwards, particularly the newcomers, have made significant strides since the start of the season in terms of hustling back to help defensively by backchecking the opposing forwards.

"I think a lot of the young guys (playing) forward were used to playing offense and no defense, but I think they've started to get better at that and have started to help us out," Oberlin said. "That's a big deal because we can't do it all ourselves."

It is important that UA limits its opponents' scoring given the fact that the Bears have had trouble scoring consistently. They have been shut out nine times and are averaging just two goals per game. They have scored more than two goals in just eight games, posting a 4-4 record in those contests.

"We're just having a tough time finishing," Graham said, pointing to a 3-0 loss to St. Charles last Saturday at the Dispatch Ice Haus in which the Bears had 41 shots but couldn't get one past Cardinals goalie Connor Lenhart. "We don't have a pure goal scorer on our team. (Forward) Reid Greiner's been carrying the bulk of (the scoring) load. He's not a natural goal scorer, but he's becoming better at it."

Greiner leads the Bears with 13 goals. Forward James Baugh is second on the team with 10, followed by forwards Ethan Burton (7) and Jack Sansbury (6). No one else has more than three.

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Upper Arlington hockey team:

Jan. 16 -- Lost to Strongsville 5-1 in Strongsville Ehrnfelt Memorial Tournament

Jan. 17 -- Lost to Maumee 4-2 in Ehrnfelt Memorial

Jan. 18 -- Lost to Kalamazoo (Mich.) 2-0 in Ehrnfelt Memorial

*Last Friday -- Defeated Dublin Scioto 8-1

*Last Saturday -- Lost to St. Charles 3-0

*Last Sunday -- Def. Olentangy Orange 5-2

*Friday -- At Chiller at Easton vs. DeSales

*Saturday -- At Dispatch Ice Haus vs. Dublin Jerome. The Bears lost 2-0 on Dec. 6 and 3-2 on Nov. 28.

*Sunday -- At Ice Haus vs. Worthington Kilbourne

Of note: The Bears are 4-24-1 overall and 4-6-1 in the CHC.

*CHC game