Despite being under .500, the Northeast Storm club hockey team will have a chance to finish the season on a high note when it participates in the Buckeye Cup state tournament from Friday, March 8, to Sunday, March 10, at Sports Plus in Cincinnati.

The Storm is 20-22-3 and coming off a 2-2 performance in the Blue Jackets Cup, the postseason tournament for the Ohio Scholastic Hockey League.

“Our approach to the Buckeye Cup centers around effort and mental focus,” coach Matt Wince said. “We’re a ninth seed (out of 12 teams) so nobody expects much out of us (and) we figure we have nothing to lose. We relish being the underdog and know we’re capable of beating all three teams we’re playing.”

In pool play, Northeast will take on Dayton on Friday, March 8, and Cincinnati and North Royalton on Saturday, March 9. The semifinals and championship game are Sunday, March 10.

The top 12 teams in the final USA Hockey rankings released Feb. 20 on myhockey-rankings.com earned berths for the Buckeye Cup. Northeast was ranked ninth and got an at-large berth.

At-large berths are based on computer rankings and include criteria such as strength of schedule.

The champions of the OSHL, Cincinnati High School Hockey League and North Coast High School Hockey League earned automatic berths to the Buckeye Cup.

The Storm alternated wins and losses in the Blue Jackets Cup, defeating Hilliard 4-0 in the first round Feb. 15, losing to Dayton 5-2 in the second round Feb. 16 and edging Westerville 3-2 in a consolation game Feb. 17 before falling to Hilliard 2-1 in a consolation semifinal Feb. 17.

Damon Warren (Westerville South) leads Northeast with 31 goals, ahead of Ryan Pasqualetti (Johnstown) with 19, Philip Luehmann (Bexley) with 18 and Noah Luehmann (Bexley) with 17.

Goaltender Kevyn Neil (Johnstown) has made 911 saves on 1,041 shots (87.5 percent).

“Whereas in the past we relied on a few skilled players to drive the play, this year we have better balance from top to bottom,” said Wince, who took over for Eric Schnabel in mid-January. “Our leading scorer is a freshman. … Sophomore Will Hortz, junior Graham Mackey and senior Elijah Wince have been the stalwarts on defense. Sophomore Kevyn Neil has led the way in the pipes and has performed well under pressure for being an underclassman.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave