As the second seed in the state tournament, the Hilliard club hockey team had aspirations of winning the championship to earn a berth in the national tournament March 22-26 in Plymouth, Minnesota.
The Wildcats got off to a good start at state, known as the Buckeye Cup, as they defeated 11th-seeded Fremont 7-0 in the opening game of pool play March 2 at Chiller Easton.
Their title hopes were dashed, however, when they lost to ninth-seeded Camp Dennison Indian Hill 4-1 and fifth-seeded Medina 3-2 on March 3 to finish 1-2 in pool play and failed to qualify for the semifinals.
"It's disappointing because we had a great opportunity," coach Wade Bartley said. "I hope they learn that the biggest part of what they need to understand is how disciplined you have to be to stick to a team's system and to be disciplined in general when the game is exciting and on the line and do not react with your emotions in a negative way."
Newark, the top seed in the Buckeye Cup and the Wildcats' Ohio Scholastic Hockey League rival, went on to win the title, defeating Indian Hill 6-2 in the final March 4 at Chiller North.
Hilliard, which made its 11th consecutive state appearance, finished 28-18-4 overall.
The Wildcats went 0-3 in pool play at state last season after finishing third at state the previous two seasons.
In their win against Fremont, senior forward Colin Mayr (Davidson) had two goals and an assist but injured his shoulder and was lost for the remainder of the tournament. Senior goaltender Ty Moore (Central Crossing) earned the shutout.
Senior forward Ty Spangler (Darby) scored against Indian Hill and had both goals against Medina.
"I thought we were playing good. It's just a couple of bounces didn't go our way," Spangler said. "It was hard to see it end because we're basically a family and it's over."
The Wildcats also fell short in their quest for their first Blue Jackets Cup championship since 2011, as they reached the championship round before dropping 3-1 and 5-2 decisions to Newark on Feb. 24 in the double-elimination league tournament.
Hilliard finished 12-8-4 (28 points) in the Ohio Scholastic Hockey League to tie Northeast for third, behind Newark (43, 20-1-3) and Dayton (30, 13-7-4) and ahead of PHA (27, 12-9-3), Westerville (9, 3-18-3) and Athens (3, 0-21-3).
Spangler led the Wildcats in scoring with 65 points (36 goals, 29 assists).
"It was awesome," Spangler said of his four-year prep career. "I loved playing for Hilliard. It meant everything in the world. Everybody was nice and great to me."
Sophomore forward Laith Abusalha (Bradley) had 38 points (21 goals, 17 assists), sophomore forward Marcus Cornett (home-schooled) had 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists), senior defenseman Austin Fomby (Metro Early College) had 22 points (9 goals, 13 assists) and senior defenseman Mitchell Gillespie (Darby) had 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists).
Moore and senior Jesse Walz (Davidson) shared time in goal. Walz went 15-9-2 with a 2.99 goals against average and .850 save percentage and Moore finished 12-7-2 with a 2.48 GAA and .879 save percentage.
Hilliard was hit hard by injuries late in the season as senior forward Jacob Humphreys (Bradley, back), junior forward Dominic Iosue (Darby, shoulder) and junior defenseman Kyle Heidtman (Bradley, broken thumb) missed the postseason.
"We were short the whole weekend," Bartley said. "We had 15 skaters and two goalies and 14 skaters for the last game. The boys were worn out."
Others eligible to return are juniors Peter Burback (forward, Davidson), Declan Costello (defenseman, Jonathan Alder), Isaac Lee (forward, Jonathan Alder), Trevor Seitz (forward, Wellington), Matthew Spangler (forward, Darby) and Jonathan Szekeres (goalie, Bradley), sophomores Nick Grossenbacher (forward, Bradley), Ryan Mayr (forward, Davidson) and John Pastirzyk (forward, Fairbanks) and freshman Ryan Koenig (defenseman, Davidson).
"We'll lose a bunch of guys. It's a good group," Bartley said of the nine seniors. "I've seen them grow up pretty well and the team came a long way. They were good guys, good leaders. They'll definitely be missed."
@ThisWeekFrankAt a glance
*Record: 28-18-4 overall, 12-8-4 (tied for third) in OSHL
*Seniors lost: Austin Fomby, Mitchell Gillespie, Jacob Humphreys, Colin Mayr, Ty Moore, Johnathan Robinson, Ty Spangler, Jesse Walz and Max Wenerstrom
*Key returnees: Laith Abusalha, Peter Burback, Marcus Cornett, Kyle Heidtman and Dominic Iosue