Hockey: Youthful Prowlers determined to grow

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Junior defenseman Gianni Palombaro is among the top returnees for PHA. While the Prowlers got out to a slow start, coach  Bob McElheney said the players "are growing immensely, week in and week out" thanks to their hard work.

Prowler Hockey Association coach Bob McElheney hoped observers looked past the team’s record and goal differential during a rough start to further examine its growth.

Eight players returned from last year’s team that went 9-26-5 overall and 6-8-4 in the Ohio Scholastic Hockey League, but the remaining 12 are in their first season on varsity, including both goalies and one of the top offensive threats in the early going.

“We’re still polishing the stone,” McElheney said. “We’ve taken it on the chin. The record is what it is and I think people would be surprised if they looked at the record or our goal differential, the scores of the game, but realistically the product from day one to now has been unbelievable. They are growing immensely, week in and week out. The (locker) room is unbelievable.”

The Prowlers were 0-12-1 overall and 0-6-1 in the OSHL through 13 games and had been outscored 90-16.

Senior forward Brandon Hux, from Pickerington Central, and junior defenseman Max Ingram, from New Albany, shared the team lead in goals with four each. Junior defenseman Gianni Palombaro, from Bloom-Carroll, added three.

In addition to Hux and Palombaro, PHA’s other returnees are seniors Sam Mills (defenseman, Central) and Will Wenger (defenseman, Pickerington North) and juniors Jonathan Frush (forward, Grove City Christian), Ben Hayes (forward, Central), Brandon Ley (defenseman, Central) and Brady Sharp (forward, Amanda-Clearcreek).

Junior Blake Smiley (Liberty Union) and sophomore Joshua Neff (Central) split time in goal.

“They are putting in an incredible amount of work. They want to put this team on their back,” McElheney said. “A lot of these kids, this is the first taste they’ve had of a bigger, faster, stronger type of hockey. We saw the first few weeks, it was a deer-in-the-headlights sort of thing, and the biggest jump we’ve made is that we have kids who are starting to believe in themselves and knowing they belong here.”

Rounding out the roster are juniors Jeremiah Hatch (forward, Central) and Andrew Polta (forward, New Albany), sophomores Joshua Holdren (forward, Grove City), Caleb Huffner (forward, Grove City) and Cam Tackett (defenseman, Grove City) and freshmen Braylon Beckwith (defenseman, Canal Winchester), Keaton Brackett (defenseman, Canal Winchester), Quinn Gabel (forward, Central) and Christian Rohaly (forward, Canal Winchester).

The Prowlers continue OSHL play Friday, Dec. 4, against Northeast at OhioHealth Ice Haus and Sunday, Dec. 6, against Dayton at NTPRD Chiller in Springfield.

“I think (expectations) are night by night,” McElheney said. “We’ll say, ‘we’re going to win the next seven minutes,’ ‘we’re going to win the next period.’ Let’s focus on what we can control here. We can’t go win a state championship right now. We’re weeks away from that. Let’s win this thing, this piece, and then we’ll move from there.”

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave

Coach: Bob McElheney, fifth season

Top players: Brandon Hux, Sam Mills, Gianni Palombaro and Brady Sharp

Key losses: Cameron Bell, Garrett Bowers and Tanner Sabau

Last season: 9-26-5 overall

2019-20 OSHL standings: Newark (32, 15-1-2), Hilliard (26, 12-4-2), Dayton (22, 9-5-4), Northeast (18, 8-8-2), PHA (16, 6-8-4), Westerville (12, 4-10-4), Athens (0, 0-18)