The Hilliard club hockey team will continue its pursuit of the Blue Jackets Cup title this weekend.
The Wildcats' path to get where they are in that pursuit has been longer than they would've liked, as they lost their opening game in the double-elimination Ohio Scholastic Hockey League tournament, falling to Northeast 4-0 on Feb. 15 at Chiller Dublin.
Hilliard remained alive in the tournament by winning three consecutive games and will play the loser of the Newark-Dayton game on Friday, Feb. 22, in a contest at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at OhioHealth Ice Haus. The winner of that contest will face the winner of the Newark-Dayton game in the championship round at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at Chiller North.
If needed, a second game in the championship round will be played at 11:40 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 24, at Chiller North.
"I like our chances," coach Wade Bartley said. "I don't think anybody is going to be in a big hurry to play us because we have had such a strong last 12 games. If we prepare the way we can play, any team should be worried."
After losing to Northeast, the Wildcats bounced back to defeat PHA 2-1 on Feb. 16 at Chiller Dublin and Athens 5-1 at Chiller Dublin and Northeast 4-1 at Chiller North on Feb. 17.
"It was tough (Feb. 15)," Bartley said. "I think it was looking ahead to the finals when you're playing in your first game. We were very guilty of it. All year we've made it tougher on ourselves than it needs to be."
Marcus Cornett, Declan Costello, Cameron DeForest and Matt Spangler each scored and goaltender Jonathon Szekeres had 33 saves in the win over Northeast as the Wildcats improved to 23-19-4.
"We just came out a little bit on our heels," Szekeres said of the loss to Northeast. "I don't know what happened, but all that matters is that we bounced back. We took a longer route, unfortunately, but we're here still and we have a couple more (games this) weekend."
The Blue Jackets Cup champion automatically earns a berth in the 12-team state tournament, known as the Buckeye Cup, which begins March 8 in Cincinnati. If Hilliard doesn't win the title, it still could receive an at-large state berth.
Entering the week, the Wildcats were ranked seventh in the state. In addition to the champions of the OSHL, the Cincinnati High School Hockey League and the North Coast High School Hockey League, the other teams ranked in the top 12 qualify for the state tournament.