Although his team had advanced to the past two club hockey state tournaments, Northeast coach Eric Schnabel did not panic when the Storm started this season 1-5-1.
After all, the Storm had lost 13 players to graduation and returned only a handful of players with varsity experience from last year's team, which went 27-16-7 overall and lost in a Buckeye Cup semifinal. With that in mind, Schnabel was not surprised that it took his team most of the first month of the season to find itself.
Four games in suburban Detroit in late October seemed to be the turning point.
"Our progression was interesting. Our first game, we got schooled. We had a deer-in-the-headlights look," Schnabel, who is in his second season, said of a 9-0 loss to Park Ridge (Illinois) Maine Township East on Oct. 26. "The next game (a 7-1 loss to Tecumseh-Shoreline, Michigan, on Oct. 27), we were more the aggressor. By the time we played the final game (a 2-all tie against River Forest of Oak Park, Illinois, on Oct. 28), they understood they had to be the aggressor. This is a tough sport we play. They know they'll get hit continually. That tournament got them galvanized."
Northeast hit its stride thereafter, winning 10 of its next 14 games to improve to 11-9-1 overall after beating Columbus Academy 8-3 on Dec. 9. It was 6-4 in the Ohio Scholastic Hockey League after a 5-4 loss to Dayton on Dec. 8.
The Storm played its most dominant hockey in the Chiller Thanksgiving Classic that concluded Nov. 25 at Chiller North, outscoring four opponents 37-0, including posting 14 goals against Brecksville-Broadview Heights on Nov. 24 and 16 against Dublin Scioto the next day.
"We've gotten used to the way we all play together," said senior defenseman Elijah Wince, who attends Big Walnut High School. "I've only played with a few of these guys for a while, but it's a new game when we're all with each other. Some of them, I didn't know at all until this season. It's just about the way they play, getting used to that and putting our games together."
Freshman forward Damon Warren (Westerville South) leads the Storm with 19 goals and seven assists. Sophomore forward Philip Luehmann (Bexley) has 12 goals and sophomore defenseman Will Hortz (Worthington Kilbourne) has a team-best 12 assists.
Senior Zack Wissenbach and sophomore Kevyn Neil, from Pickerington North and Johnstown, respectively, have split time at goaltender.
"We're a pretty new team," said Ryan Pasqualetti, a senior defenseman from Johnstown. "We've been changing lines around and we've found some good setups. Our passing can be really, really beautiful. I've been really impressed with our chemistry and how we work together."
Rounding out the roster are seniors Jeffrey Binsky (forward, Bexley), Emma Clark-Moore (forward/defenseman, Buckeye Valley), Noah Luehmann (forward, Bexley) and Ryan Moore (defenseman, Marysville), junior Graham Mackey (defenseman, Big Walnut), sophomores Eli Bowden (forward, Johnstown), Cameron Gresham (defenseman, Olentangy Liberty) and J.T. Hosack (forward, Delaware) and freshmen Riley Behl (defenseman, Bexley), Garret Duquet (forward, Marysville) and A.J. Zink (forward, Johnstown).
Northeast went 12-8-4 with 28 points in the OSHL last year to tie Hilliard for third place behind champion Newark (43, 20-1-3).
"For me, it's not about how many games we win. It's more about what (players) want to do to make their own game better," Schnabel said. "From a team perspective, it's all about battles. Hockey is all about battles. 'I will win my battle (or) I will win my shift.' If they do enough of those things, the scoreboard should reflect that hard work."
*Nov. 1 — Westerville at Chiller North
*Nov. 2 — Athens at Bird Arena
*Nov. 9 — PHA at Chiller North
*Nov. 11 — Dayton at Chiller Springfield
*Nov. 17 — Westerville at Chiller Easton
*Nov. 18 — Hilliard at Chiller Easton
Nov. 23 — Gahanna in Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller North
Nov. 24 — Brecksville-Broadview Heights and Garfield Heights Trinity in Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller North
Nov. 25 — Dublin Scioto in Chiller Thanksgiving Classic at Chiller North
*Nov. 30 — Newark at Lou & Gib Reese Arena
*Dec. 2 — Athens at OhioHealth Ice Haus
*Dec. 8 — Dayton at Chiller Easton
Dec. 9 — Columbus Academy at Chiller North
Dec. 14 — Cincinnati Indian Hill at OhioHealth Ice Haus
*Dec. 15 — PHA at Chiller Easton
*Dec. 16 — Athens at Chiller Easton
*Dec. 20 — Newark at Lou & Gib Reese Arena
*Dec. 23 — Dayton at Chiller Springfield
*Dec. 29 — Hilliard at Chiller Dublin
*Jan. 5 — Newark at Chiller Easton
*Jan. 6 — Westerville at Chiller Easton
*Jan. 11 — Hilliard at Chiller North
*Jan. 12 — Dayton at Chiller North
Jan. 18-20 — Martin Luther King Jr. tournament
*Jan. 25 — PHA at Chiller Easton
*Jan. 26 — Athens at Bird Arena
*Feb. 1 — Hilliard at Chiller Dublin
*Feb. 3 — Newark at OhioHealth Ice Haus
*Feb. 9 — PHA at Chiller North
*Feb. 10 — Westerville at OhioHealth Ice Haus