The season for the Westerville Warcats club hockey team began Oct. 10, the same day area football teams headed into week eight of the regular season.

The season for the Westerville Warcats club hockey team began Oct. 10, the same day area football teams headed into week eight of the regular season.

Considering that the Warcats still had six weeks left as Christmas break began, coach Derek Graziosi and his players welcomed the 15-day break between games.

"We've been playing hockey since June (including preseason practice), so mentally, maybe it's good that we finally have a two-week break to get away from it and then come back to it fully focused again," Graziosi said.

The Warcats might have been feeling the effects of the mental and physical drain as they limped into the break. After opening 10-4-1 overall, they dropped their next two games. In the most recent game, a 10-1 loss to Newark on Dec. 18, the Warcats were missing two key players and had another who was not 100 percent as he returned from injury.

With all the teams in the GCHSCHL off until Friday, Westerville is in second place at 6-5-1 with 13 points behind PRPC (6-2-3, 15) and just ahead of Newark (5-4-0, 10) and Northeast (4-3-1, 9).

Westerville is 10-6-1 overall, with its only non-league loss coming against Gahanna 5-4 (4-3 in shootout) on Nov. 29. The Warcats resume play Sunday at the Dispatch Ice Haus against Northeast.

The Warcats have had just one practice since Dec. 18, but forward Trevor DeVilbiss said players weren't getting lazy as they relaxed over the break.

"Everyone will be back focused, ready to go," DeVilbiss said. "Everyone is just trying to meet up at drop-ins and stuff, trying to keep playing and keep on the ice."

Westerville should have its entire roster healthy when it continues play Sunday at the Ice Haus against Northeast. Defensemen Alec Iberg and Colin Dumbach were out with injuries at the start of the break, but Graziosi expects them to be fine by Sunday. Forward Dylan Thompson returned to the lineup in mid-December but was not at full strength, and he also should be 100 percent by Sunday.

The return of those three should give the Warcats a lift on both ends of the ice. Thompson has contributed four goals and eight assists in 15 games, and Dumbach was one of the leaders of a defense that has been struggling lately. Iberg also was a key contributor on defense.

The Warcats have allowed 15 goals in their last two games, and Graziosi said that might be the biggest key as his team looks to get back on the winning track.

"We have to get better on the defensive end," he said. "If we don't get better on the defensive end and get smarter, then they're going to get beat a lot more than we're going to win. We have to work on our defensive end coverage and playing smart hockey. I sound like a broken record when I say that, but we have to play smart in the defensive end or we're done."

The Warcats have been fairly effective on the offensive end all season, and DeVilbiss has been a big reason why. He is second on the team in points with 25 (12 goals, 13 assists), but Graziosi said his effort and versatility are what sets him apart.

"He's extremely reliable," Graziosi said. "Right now he's playing center, but he plays all over the place. When we go short-handed, we put him on defense. If we're up by a goal late in the game, we put him on defense. He's one that we move around. He's on the ice every other shift."

Forward Jordan Melvin leads the team in scoring (10 goals, 16 assists), although Michael Birch is the leader in goals with 18. Defensively, Graziosi said the Warcats have gotten consistent play as expected from Jeff Richards, who also has five goals and 10 assists.

The Warcats were expected to be one of the contenders for the league title and possibly a deep run in the state tournament, and DeVilbiss said he believes they will return from the lay-off prepared to make good on those preseason expectations.

"Really, I think we're doing fine, but we just need to catch some breaks here and there," DeVilbiss said. "Having everyone back will help us with that, and we can get back into the groove of things."

At a glance

Below are the recent results and coming schedule for the Westerville club hockey team:

*Dec. 5 -- Defeated Athens 3-2

*Dec. 12 -- Lost to Northeast 5-4

*Dec. 18 -- Lost to Newark 10-1

*Sunday -- At Dispatch Ice Haus vs. Northeast

*Jan. 9 -- At Chiller North vs. Hilliard

Of note: The Warcats are 10-6-1 overall and 6-5-1 in the GCHSCHL.