Hockey: Olentangy Orange believes talent can trump small roster

Scott Hennen
ThisWeek group
Senior forward Payton Muth and Orange are looking to improve on a 2019-20 season in which they finished 22-12, won the CHC-White Division title and reached a district semifinal. Muth had 23 goals and 20 assists.

Brenton Blaskie hopes the Olentangy Orange hockey team doesn’t miss a beat in his first season as coach.

Blaskie succeeded J.D. Damrath, for whom he was an assistant in both of Damrath’s seasons leading the program. Blaskie believes the Pioneers have the talent to improve on a season in which they finished 22-12, won the CHC-White Division title and reached a district semifinal before losing 7-4 to Liberty.

It was the program’s first division title and first district semifinal appearance since 2014.

“I think we have some top-end talent here,” Blaskie said. “We might not be deep, but we have a lot of talent.”

Senior forward Clayton Headlee returns after totaling 35 goals and 53 assists to lead the Pioneers in scoring and earn all-league honors in the CHC, which paused games through the end of November.

“We’re playing together well just because of the time we’ve put in during the offseason,” Headlee said. “We’re going to have an aggressive style of play, where we’ll be playing more quickly and get the puck up the ice.”

Joining Headlee at forward are seniors Austin Knupp (36 goals, 39 assists) and Payton Muth (23 goals, 20 assists), while junior Kyle Diehr (.884 save percentage) is back in goal. 

Returning on defense are senior Ethan Muth (2 goals, 15 assists) and juniors Gabe Headlee (2 goals, 7 assists) and Grant Hendrickson (6 goals, 10 assists).

“We have great leadership,” Blaskie said. “If you’re going to have success it starts with them. They get the team together for the workouts and they’ve handled the (COVID-19 coronavirus) restrictions well. They’ve used it as a plus for the season.”

Senior forwards Max Hart and Wes Newton, junior forward Robbie Hauer and sophomore goalie Luke Mercer round out the varsity roster.

“We’ll only have 11 varsity players, which means we’ll have to deal with our depth,” Blaskie said. “They know the challenge, and it doesn’t matter what you throw at them.

“They could have used that as a crutch, but used it as motivation to get where they need to be. They would run the hill at Alum Creek dam and then they would come over and skate. They did what they needed to do to prepare.”

Liberty defenseman Landon Smith makes a physical play during last season's district final loss to New Albany. Smith and the Patriots are aiming to capture their first district title since 2017.

Patriots ready to make 

run at district title

Liberty hopes to put itself in position to battle for another district championship after winning one in 2017 and losing in the district final each of the past three seasons.

Last season, the Patriots went 25-6-5-1 overall, finished third (10-3-3) in the CHC-Red behind Upper Arlington (15-0-1) and St. Charles (11-3-1-1) and lost 4-2 to New Albany in the district final.

“This is one of the hardest-working teams we’ve had, so we’re excited,” fourth-year coach Kevin Alexander said. “We’ve got 20 kids that can play, so it’s pretty exciting stuff.”

Junior Gage Schlotterbeck is the top returnee on offense after finishing with 41 goals and 28 assists to earn first-team all-CHC and first-team all-CHC-Red honors.

Senior forward Ben Brown (13 goals, 13 assists), junior forward Shane Flanagan (11 goals, 8 assists) and sophomore defenseman Carson Reynolds (9 goals, 6 assists) also are among the top returning scorers.

Senior Andy Keeler is expected to step in full time at goalie after going 11-0 with an .864 save percentage while serving behind 2020 graduate Andrew Vidrick, who went 14-6-5-1 with a .919 save percentage and was first-team all-CHC and honorable mention all-state.

Junior Benton Roberts will serve as the backup goalie.

A pair of newcomers, senior forward Jackson Vojin and sophomore defenseman Vinny Rengel, have previous travel team experience and figure to make an immediate impact.

Other seniors expected to play big roles are Max Lundquist (forward), Isaac Moe (forward), Kellan Reynolds (forward) and Landon Smith (defenseman).

Junior Drew Gaitten (forward) and sophomores Eric Bauermeister (defenseman) and Liam Pullins (defenseman) also should be key contributors.

“We seem to have a lot of depth,” Alexander said. “We’ll see if our defense is as strong as last year. We’ve got a boatload of guys that show a lot of promise.”

—Jarrod Ulrey

Rising numbers allow

Bears to add j.v. team

Coach Tim Pennington has Berlin taking another step in its third season.

The Bears increased their win total by 10 a year ago when they finished 21-10 overall after going 11-13-1-1 during their inaugural season.

This winter, the numbers are high enough for Berlin to field its first j.v. team.

“It’s great to have so many kids back that we’ll have our first j.v. team,” said Pennington, whose team went 10-6 in the CHC-White last season to tie Cincinnati Moeller (9-5-1-1) for second with 20 points. “That will help our program because we’re that much deeper and we’ll have a lot more kids getting a lot more ice time, which will help us down the road.”

The returnees include junior forward Carson Jankowski, who led the Bears in scoring with 32 goals and 28 assists and was named first-team all-CHC-White. Also back is junior goalie Josh Chmielewski, who had an .897 save percentage and was honorable mention all-league.

Other returning players include seniors Henderson Bishop (forward; 10 goals, 2 assists), Cole Mascari (forward; 7 goals, 8 assists) and Dan Neverov (defenseman; 4 goals, 9 assists), juniors Luke DeChristopher (defenseman; 6 goals, 5 assists), Tyler Ebare (forward; 12 goals, 19 assists), Nick Piccioni (forward; 7 goals, 12 assists), Zach Rainey (defenseman; 4 goals, 7 assists) and Zack Zielinski (forward; 9 goals, 10 assists) and sophomore Zach Rogers (defenseman; 5 goals, 5 assists).

“I think we’re a year older as a program from back end up, and I think our depth is good,” Pennington said. “We have a big junior class, and we have a few new pieces to the puzzle.”

Two such additions are junior forward Ryley Scanlon, whose family moved from Arizona, and freshman defenseman Parker McDaniels, who has played AAA travel hockey.

Seniors also include forwards Wes Bobo, Sebastian Dondalski and Drew Haver, defenseman Walter Mauer and goalies Alex Cunningham and Ethan Jaeckel.

“The biggest thing is always continuing to improve on our ‘we not me’ philosophy, putting the team first,” Pennington said. “That’s one of the biggest things year in and year out. The more we buy into that, the more success we’ll have."

—Scott Hennen

Veteran offense 

to lead Braves

Olentangy returns its top six forwards from a team that went 8-20-0-2 overall and 5-10-0-1 in the CHC-White last year, but must replace four-year starting defenseman Alec Rieser and veteran goalie Dominik Rusnak.

Even with much of its offense back and seven seniors on the roster, the Braves still are predominantly young in a handful of spots under sixth-year coach Mike Ross.

“Early on, we’re going to rely on those top six forwards. They’ll be a strength,” Ross said. “Our defense made a lot of strides toward the end of last year and it might take some time for them to get their feet back under them.

“We have a good group overall, but we don’t have kids who play hockey 10 months out of the year like some other programs around here. The experience we got last year will help us out.”

The veteran group of forwards includes seniors Mitch Berger and Landon Johnson, juniors Nick Biehl and Kiernan Latshaw and sophomores Andrew Kieffer and Charlie Ziliak.

Returning defenders include senior Cole Van Riper and juniors Noah Loris and Reilly Worthington. Senior Angelo Carroll and sophomore Essence Wyse will split time in goal.

“Both of them will get plenty of opportunities to start,” Ross said. “If one of them has the hot hand over a stretch of games, then we’ll roll them out there.”

Rounding out the roster are seniors Nicholas Batten (forward), Brenden Beals (forward) and Manny Seaboldt (forward), juniors Taye Gonzalez (forward) and Trevor Maynard (forward/defenseman), sophomores John Gatteri (forward), Ethan Meister (defenseman), Tyler Pfister (forward), Ethan Ross (defenseman) and Ebony Wyse (defenseman) and freshmen Ben Dorbish (forward), Drew Trautman (defenseman) and Gio Valentino (forward).

—Dave Purpura

sports@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSports

BERLIN

Coach: Tim Pennington, third season

Top players: Henderson Bishop, Josh Chmielewski, Luke DeChristopher, Tyler Ebare, Carson Jankowski, Cole Mascari, Dan Neverov, Nick Piccioni, Zach Rogers and Zack Zielinski

Key losses: Layne Comyns, Andrew Rogers and Tanner Shimp

Last season: 21-10 overall

2019-20 CHC-White standings: Orange (22, 11-5), Berlin (20, 10-6), Cincinnati Moeller (20, 9-5-1-1), Cincinnati St. Xavier (18, 9-7), Thomas Worthington (16, 7-7-1-1), Springboro (14, 7-9), Dublin Coffman (12, 5-9-2), Olentangy (11, 5-10-0-1)

2020 postseason: Defeated Moeller 4-3 (OT); lost to Liberty 4-1 in district quarterfinal

LIBERTY

Coach: Kevin Alexander, fourth season

Top players: Ben Brown, Shane Flanagan, Andy Keeler, Max Lundquist, Isaac Moe, Gage Schlotterbeck, Vinny Vengel and Jackson Vojin

Key losses: Tim Casey, Jake DiMantova, Dane Hatfield, Aidan King, Keegan Pullins, Korey Raymond, Max Turner and Andrew Vidrick

Last season: 25-6-5-1 overall

2019-20 CHC-Red standings: Upper Arlington (31, 15-0-1), St. Charles (24, 11-3-1-1), Olentangy Liberty (23, 10-3-3), New Albany (21, 10-5-1), Dublin Jerome (18, 8-6-1-1)

2020 postseason: Def. Gahanna 10-0; def. Berlin 4-1; def. Orange 7-4; lost to New Albany 4-2 in district final

OLENTANGY

Coach: Mike Ross, sixth season

Top players: Mitch Berger, Landon Johnson, Andrew Kieffer, Noah Loris and Cole Van Riper

Key losses: Alec Rieser and Dominik Rusnak

Last season: 8-20-0-2 overall

2020 postseason: Lost to Watterson 6-4 in first round of district tournament

ORANGE

Coach: Brenton Blaskie, first season

Top players: Kyle Diehr, Clayton Headlee, Grant Hendrickson, Austin Knupp, Ethan Muth and Payton Muth

Key losses: Luke Clifford, Camden Cush, Carter Goodknight, Nathan Hazel, Aaron Johnson, Blake Messenger, Cam Miller, Jake Morrone and Eddie Muller

Last season: 22-12 overall

2020 postseason: Def. St. Xavier 7-1; def. St. Charles 4-1; lost to Liberty 7-4 in district semifinal