When looking over his 17-member roster, Thomas Worthington High School hockey coach Don Harper likes what he sees.

When looking over his 17-member roster, Thomas Worthington High School hockey coach Don Harper likes what he sees.

The Cardinals are looking to improve on last season, when they finished 14-13-2 overall, losing to Olentangy Orange 5-2 in the first round of the district tournament.

All the pieces appear to be in place to accomplish that goal.

According to Harper, not only do the Cardinals return their leading scorer in junior forward Will Byars, they have solid goaltending with juniors Johnathan Highley and Sean Lima.

"The bar's been set higher because I think our talent level is higher," said Harper, who is in his second season leading the Cardinals. "We've got a small roster this year, but this group has a lot of heart and they're focused."

Thomas, which opens against Olentangy in the Midwest Thanksgiving Classic on Friday, Nov. 25, at Chiller Dublin, went 5-7-1 (11 points) in the Capital Hockey Conference last season to finish ninth, behind co-champions Dublin Jerome (12-1, 24) and Olentangy Liberty as well as Cincinnati Moeller (11-2, 22), Dublin Coffman (10-2-1, 21), St. Charles (7-4-2, 16), Upper Arlington (7-4-1-1, 16), Olentangy Orange (6-4-2, 15) and Olentangy (7-6, 14).

Gahanna (4-9, 8) finished 10th, followed by DeSales (3-9-0-1, 7), Worthington Kilbourne (1-12, 2), Dublin Scioto (1-12, 2) and Watterson (0-13, 0).

This season, the 14-team CHC will be divided into three divisions. The Cardinals are in the white division with Gahanna, Olentangy, Orange and UA and will play their division foes twice and the rest of the CHC opponents once.

"I think maybe there could be a shift in power this year," Byars said. "Maybe some of the top teams might drop and some of the weaker ones might step up. For us, I think this could be one of the best seasons we've had in five years."

Byars had 21 goals and 24 assists last season.

Other scoring threats return in senior defenseman Kyle Gratz (17 goals, 13 assists) and senior forward Harrison Cohan (10 goals, 19 assists), sophomore forward Tommy Pischel (8 goals, 10 assists), senior forward Graham Nadler (8 goals, 3 assists), junior defender Nick Highley (6 goals, 9 assists) and sophomore forward Riley Maloney (6 goals, 7 assists).

Others expected to see significant ice time are senior forward Andrew Wallace, junior forward Sam Bachman, junior defender Quintin Schomaker, junior forward Jacob Brumfield (1 goal, 1 assist), sophomore forward Kevin Hill and sophomore defender Liam Martin.

Harper also has been impressed by freshman forward Dominic Caminiti and freshman defenseman Ryan Gratz.

"They've been through the youth hockey programs and as Columbus matures in hockey, we're going to see more guys like that," Harper said of the two freshmen. "But I'm disappointed we don't have more kids in Worthington who play hockey."

The Cardinals hope for better defensive play with more experience.

Last season, Jonathan Highley had a 2.52 goals-against average in 21 games and Lima had a 1.62 average in eight games.

"We're really low on numbers right now and that can hurt us defensively," Byars said. "We only have five defenders on the roster and we'd prefer to have six or seven. But we've got a lot of returning players and any one of them is capable of stepping up."