The Prowler Hockey Association club team is set to compete in the state tournament for the third consecutive season.
The tournament, known as the Buckeye Cup, runs Friday, March 8, through Sunday, March 10, at Cincinnati Sports Plus. The Prowlers are seeded 11th of 12 teams and will open against second-seeded Newark at 7 p.m. March 8. Then on March 9, they will face fifth-seeded Wooster at 11 a.m. and eighth-seeded North Coast at 6:15 p.m.
The semifinals and final will be played March 10.
"We've had several weeks of practice and the huge thing is that we're getting everyone healthy for the first time in a long time," coach Bob McElheney said. "That should give us a huge push."
In the 2017 Buckeye Cup at OBM Arena in Strongsville, the Prowlers went 2-0-1 in pool play and defeated Medina 3-1 in a semifinal before losing to Dayton 8-1 in the final to finish 23-18-7. Last year at Chiller North, they went 1-2 in pool play and finished 26-15-3.
Having lost 10 players from a year ago to graduation, PHA opened this season with a younger squad that needed time to develop and jell, and that development was slowed by injuries to some key players.
"We were just getting into a better flow late in the season and we're excited to see how we can put things together now," said McElheney, whose team is 12-24-8.
"Getting forward Chase Minor back after a neck injury could be a huge piece of the puzzle and having defenseman Garrett Bowers and forward Peyton Strader fully healthy also should help. It makes us deeper.
"Chase is typically on the third line, but he'll be an instant help because he's a very defensive-minded forward and very physical. He's very strong on our (penalty kill)."
Minor is a junior at Pickerington High School North. Bowers is a junior at Reynoldsburg and Strader is a senior at Grove City.
PHA is 0-3-1 against Newark this season, having tied the Generals at 1 on Nov. 1 and having lost 7-1 on Nov. 17, 7-0 on Dec. 29 and 5-1 on Feb. 7. The Prowlers lost their only contest against North Coast, 6-3 on Oct. 12, and have yet to play Wooster this season.
"We're not worried about our ranking going in," McElheney said. "This is a brand new season for us and we're going to see what we can do. We were seeded fifth two years ago and finished second. The guys seem fired up for the challenge already."