There is plenty of evidence that the Upper Arlington High School hockey team is much more competitive than it was a year ago.

There is plenty of evidence that the Upper Arlington High School hockey team is much more competitive than it was a year ago.

The biggest indicator is its record. The Golden Bears are 5-8-2 overall, having posted their fifth win in their 14th game. Last season, they didn't get their fifth victory until their 30th game en route to finishing 6-30-1.

Opponents averaged 4.27 goals against UA last season. That average has dropped to 3.07.

Moreover, the Bears allowed seven or more goals in a game seven times last season, but have yet to allow more than six this season.

"I think compared to last year, it's like night and day," senior defenseman Austin Oberlin said. "I think the guys are feeling it. Guys are picking up their games."

A big reason why UA has been more competitive is the play of its defensive corps. The Bears returned all six defensemen from last season in Oberlin, senior Clay Hall, junior David Whalen and sophomores Spence Luallen, Mitch Tulley and Evan Westfall.

"I'm excited about the way we're playing," coach Jay Graham said. "We're playing with a lot of energy right now and a lot of confidence. The guys are working hard. They're outworking their opponents."

To this point, Graham has kept the same defensive pairings for each game -- Luallen and Oberlin, Tulley and Whalen, and Hall and Westfall.

"I think our coach thinks they're all strong pairings," Oberlin said. "It helps to have the same guy out there every time. You start to trust each other more. I think that's one of the big things that's helped our defense."

In the past, UA has had defensemen who regularly contributed offensively, including Andre Teetor, Andy Wilkinson and Jon Moser.

During the 2006-07 season, Teetor had 11 goals and 26 assists. Wilkinson had his best offensive season in 2005-06 with 21 goals and 29 assists. Moser, who played forward the first three years of his varsity career, was moved to defense as a senior and had 44 goals and 26 assists in 2003-04.

Graham would be hard-pressed to label any of his current defensemen an offensive defenseman, as the six combined to score 10 goals last season. Oberlin was the high scorer with four goals and nine assists.

This season, Oberlin has two goals and Luallen has one.

"We're always working with (the defensemen)," Graham said. "We'd like them to jump into the play more often and carry the puck into the (offensive) zone. We want them to cross the blue line toward the middle of the ice and get the puck to the net."

Forward Jack Sansbury leads the team with eight goals. Forward Ethan Burton now has seven goals after recording a hat trick in a 4-2 win over Perrysburg last Saturday in the Tam-O-Shanter Invitational in Sylvania.

Forward Matt Beebe is third on the team in goals with four. Forwards James Baugh, K.C. Kessler and Neil McKenzie each have three.

Goaltender Drew Cook has a .898 save percentage and three shutouts, including one which he shared with goalie Eric Spencley.

"We're excited about our prospects," Graham said. "If we continue to progress and continue to get pucks in the net, I think we're going to be tough to beat down the stretch."