The Prowler Hockey Association club team is vying for an automatic berth in the Buckeye Cup.

The top four finishers in the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League advance to the state tournament, also known as the Buckeye Cup.

The Prowlers earned their first win of the 2017 portion of their schedule when they defeated third-place Westerville 2-1 on Jan. 28 to edge closer to fourth place. They also tied second-place Newark at 1 on Jan. 19.

Entering play Jan. 29, the Prowlers were fifth in the GCHSCHL at 6-9-5 (17 points), behind Dayton (39, 18-0-3), Newark (26, 11-3-4), Westerville (21, 10-8-1) and Northeast (19, 9-8-1) and ahead of Hilliard (11, 5-12-1) and Athens (1, 0-18-1).

To be in the hunt this late in the season is a big improvement for PHA and second-year coach Bob McElheney after the Prowlers finished last in the GCHSCHL last season with a record of 2-22-0 and four points.

The Prowlers, who played Hilliard on Jan. 29, have completed their season series with fourth-place Northeast. Their remaining league schedule consists of games against Newark on Friday, Feb. 3, at the Fairgrounds Coliseum, Athens on Feb. 5 at Bird Arena and Hilliard on Feb. 12 at Chiller North.

PHA then will compete in the league tournament, also known as the Blue Jackets Cup, which begins Feb. 17.

Forward Connor Liden, a Hartley senior, led the Prowlers in scoring through 17 games with 25 points (22 goals, 3 assists). Forward Ryan O'Callaghan, a Pickerington North junior, was next with 16 (5 goals , 11 assists), followed by forward and Pickerington Central junior Dalton McElwain with 15 (4 goals, 11 assists), forward and Liberty Union senior Mark Maldovan with 14 (9 goals, 5 assists) and forward and Reynoldsburg senior Paul King with eight (5 goals, 3 assists).

Central junior goaltender Joe Ackley had allowed 33 goals on 376 shots and was 1-7-3 with a 3.09 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage, while Reynoldsburg senior goalie Ben Dunlap had allowed 27 goals on 216 shots and was 4-2-2 with a 3.24 GAA and an .875 save percentage.

bemerine@thisweeknews.com

@Brad_ThisWeek