Hilliard club hockey coach Wade Bartley has always stressed the importance of playing at a top level late in the regular season and into the postseason.

The Wildcats appear to be on target to achieve their coach's goal.

Hilliard is 14-11-2 overall and 9-2-1 in the Ohio Scholastic Hockey League. The Wildcats are second in the league with 19 points, behind Newark (21, 10-0-1).

Having gone 8-1-1 in its last 10 games, Hilliard is on a roll heading into the Big Bear Hockey Tournament, which runs Friday, Jan. 17, through Sunday, Jan. 19, in Byron Center, Michigan, and Hudsonville, Michigan.

"We are ahead of past years," Bartley said. "It's great. We have a hard-working group that is starting to learn and buy into the style of game we want to play to win."

The Wildcats' lone loss during its last 10 games was a 6-3 setback against Dublin Jerome on Dec. 22 at Chiller IceWorks.

On Jan. 10, Alex Kerr scored two goals, Jaxson Gillespie, James Schwinne III and Will Kididis each scored one and goaltender Mason Sines made 31 saves in a 5-4 win over Westerville at Chiller North.

Kerr, Kididis, Marcus Cornett, A.J. Lightfoot and Sammy Delio each scored and Sines had 36 saves in a 5-4 win over Dayton on Jan. 4 at Chiller Dublin. A day earlier, the Wildcats defeated Westerville 3-2 at Chiller Easton behind goals from Kididis, Caleb Fifolt and Jesse Stevens and 24 saves by Sines.

"I love how we're playing," Fifolt said. "We fell into a little slump around Thanksgiving and now we are winning nonstop, so it's really nice. ... We just have to keep this momentum and not give up."

The Wildcats have six league games remaining, including contests against Newark on Feb. 1 at Chiller Dublin and Feb. 13 at Lou & Gib Reese Arena to close out league play.

Hilliard resumes league play Jan. 25 against Northeast at Chiller Easton. The state tournament, known as the Buckeye Cup, begins March 6 in Cleveland.

"They've shown me that they can play with anybody," Bartley said. "If they decide to play at the level that they're capable of and the way they're taught, we'll be successful."

fdirenna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekFrank