It's been a challenge for the Olentangy Liberty hockey team not to wonder what could have been last season had its entire roster been intact.
That's how much of a difference sophomore forward Gage Schlotterbeck has made for the Patriots this winter.
Schlotterbeck had three goals and three assists in 14 games last year. Had he been healthy, he could have boosted an offense that had just two players finish in double digits in goals as Liberty had its season end with a 1-0 loss to eventual state runner-up Dublin Jerome in the district final.
After Schlotterbeck endured both a broken wrist and a cracked pelvis in separate incidents and missed 20 games last winter, he's helped the Patriots' offense become a strength of the team.
As Liberty prepares to face Thomas Worthington on Friday, Jan. 10, at Chiller North and Cincinnati St. Xavier on Saturday, Jan. 11, at Sports Plus Cincinnati, Schlotterbeck leads the team in goals with 26 and is third in assists with 19, trailing senior forward Korey Raymond (14 goals, 23 assists) and junior forward/defenseman Nik Jozefiak (13 goals, 22 assists).
"I wish he was not injured last year because it would have been a whole different story," Raymond said. "Gage is incredible."
Liberty is 15-3-3 overall and in the thick of the CHC-Red Division title race at 6-2-1.
Another of the area's top teams is St. Charles, which the Patriots beat 4-0 on Jan. 2 at Chiller North as Schlotterbeck had a hat trick.
Schlotterbeck also had a hat trick in an 8-1 victory over Olentangy on Jan. 5 at Chiller North in support of goaltender Andy Keeler, who is 10-0 with one overtime win and three shutouts.
"It's mind-blowing how much (Schlotterbeck) has grown up in one year: size, strength and speed," coach Kevin Alexander said. "His offseason has paid off and (there's been) no effects from (his injuries).
"(He has great) hockey sense and we all know he's great with the puck, but what he's even better at is playing without the puck. (He) always knows where to be on the ice."
Both of Schlotterbeck's injuries last season came on open-ice hits on the boards, but he believes his bigger physical build after experiencing a growth spurt has helped.
Schlotterbeck has four hat tricks on the season. He scored one goal in a 6-3 win Dec. 8 at Chiller Dublin over Jerome, which snapped an eight-game losing skid to the Celtics.
Liberty and Jerome tied at 1 on Dec. 27 at Chiller Dublin.
"Our lines are clicking together," Schlotterbeck said. "We're playing more as a team this year, passing the puck more solid, moving quickly. There have been no arguments. We're faster and quicker and actually have been putting the puck in the net.
"Last year I was injured a lot and didn't play that many games. This year, I've kind of stepped up a little bit and gotten some points here and there."
Girls basketball team hoping to hit stride
The girls basketball team lost four games during the 2019 portion of its schedule, with three coming by single digits. One that the Patriots will get a chance to avenge is a 49-46 loss Dec. 3 to Olentangy, which visits Liberty on Friday, Jan. 10.
The Patriots were 7-4 overall before playing Gahanna on Jan. 7. They are 3-2 in the OCC-Buckeye, while the Braves are 6-4 overall and 3-2 in the league.
"We left a couple (games) on the table, I'll just say that," coach Sam Krafty said.
Senior wing player Kelly Levering scored 20 points and senior guard Gina Santangelo had nine points, all on 3-pointers, in the loss to Olentangy.
Senior forward Teegan Pifher, who has missed three games and parts of others because of a knee injury, played only limited minutes in the first matchup with the Braves.
Liberty followed a 49-34 loss to Dublin Coffman on Dec. 21 by beating Doylestown Chippewa 43-40 on Dec. 27 and host Wadsworth 40-26 on Dec. 28 in the Believe Roundball Classic.
The win over Wadsworth was the 100th since Krafty took over before the 2014-15 season.
Then on Jan. 3, the Patriots returned to league action with a 51-22 victory at Westerville Central. Junior guard Caitlin Splain made four 3s and scored 14 points, Santangelo had nine points on three 3s and Levering added eight points.
Sophomore point guard Trinity Ramos and sophomore post player Jordan Rich have been other key players for the Patriots.
Boys basketball team preps for Braves
After falling to Westerville Central 54-52 on Jan. 3 in OCC-Buckeye action, the boys basketball team will take a 2-2 league record into its game Friday, Jan. 10, at Olentangy.
The Patriots were 5-3 overall before playing Gahanna on Jan. 7.
In the Zaxby's Christmas Classic in Nashville, Tennessee, the Patriots beat Madison (Tennessee) Goodpasture Christian 65-60 on Dec. 27 as Henry Hinkle scored 22 points, Ty Foster had 13, Cam Barcus scored 12 and Kal Jayaraman added 10.
Then against Nashville (Tennessee) Whites Creek on Dec. 28, Liberty built a 26-8 first-quarter lead and won 88-24 as Jayaraman scored 22, followed by Foster (14), Barcus (13) and Andrew Wade (12).
Hinkle had 21 points against Central, which is 3-1 in the league to share first place with Westerville South.
Through eight games, Hinkle was averaging 17.9 points, followed by Wade (13.5), Barcus (10.8), Jayaraman (9.4) and Foster (9.0).
Below are the coming schedules for the Liberty boys basketball, girls basketball, bowling, hockey, gymnastics and wrestling teams:
*Jan. 10 -- At Olentangy
Jan. 11 -- At Mansfield Senior
Jan. 14 -- At Delaware
*Jan. 10 -- Home vs. Olentangy. The Patriots lost to the Braves 49-46 on Dec. 3.
Jan. 11 -- Home vs. Pickerington North
Jan. 15 -- At Teays Valley
*Jan. 13 -- Westerville South at Sawmill Lanes
*Jan. 15 -- Orange at Columbus Square Bowling Palace
*Jan. 10 -- Thomas Worthington at Chiller North
*Jan. 11 -- Cincinnati St. Xavier at Sports Plus Cincinnati
Jan. 11 -- McGee Invitational at Dublin Jerome
*Jan. 9 -- At Orange
Jan. 10 -- Home vs. Marysville