Three new varsity programs join the Blue Division of the Capital Hockey Conference this season, bringing the total number of teams in the league to 17. Columbus Academy and Olentangy Berlin play their inaugural seasons at the varsity level while Dublin Scioto returns to full varsity status.
The additions continue a trend of expansion for the CHC, which added New Albany in 2015-16 and Springboro in 2016-17.
Commissioner Bruce McClary leads the Capital Hockey Conference into its 16th year managing expansion that has occurred organically as a result of the quantity and quality of players being produced by the area’s youth hockey system.
“The high level of competition and quality of play in the Capital Hockey Conference are supported by the growing youth hockey leagues in Central Ohio,” said McClary. “All of the youth programs are doing a great job of preparing kids for the next level.”
McClary did not lay out a specific long-term growth plan for the league, but is optimistic there could be more expansion on the horizon.
“We hope that growth continues to add to the number of High Schools that offer an OHSAA sanctioned program,” said McClary. “I am confident the Conference is well positioned to support any High School program that wants to compete at the OHSAA level.”
The depth of talent in the region has resulted in better depth among the top teams in recent years. Four teams have won the Columbus District over the past five seasons.
The next step for the league will be to end the Cleveland- and Toledo-area teams’ grip on the state championship. No CHC team has ever reached the state final. Dublin Coffman’s 3-2 double-overtime loss to University School in a 2016 semifinal is the closest the league has come. Dublin Jerome was eliminated, 2-0, to St. Edward in the semis the year prior.
CHC Red Division Preview
Regular season champion Dublin Jerome had a season to remember. The Celtics won 31 games, claimed the Blue Jackets Cup, and also represented the league in the OHSAA final four last year. Up until that point you could not ask for a better season.
A loss to Saint Ignatius, 6-1, in the state semifinal ended their season in what was the school’s second appearance in the state tournament (2015).
The only thing left to improve on this year would be to return to States and win a game – or games.
Olentangy Liberty finished as the runner-up to Jerome not only in the regular season and the CBJ Cup, but the Columbus District bracket as well. Clearly their goal this season is to surpass Jerome on one or more of those stages.
Liberty lost starting goalie David Dew, All-Ohio defensemen Sam Turner, and a lot of graduating seniors – four of which were among the top scorers on the team – but that does not mean they are not going to be back in the mix again in 2018-19.
“Scoring is our weakness,” said Patriots head coach Kevin Alexander. “However, we bring back three of the top defensemen in the state in Grant Bertges, Craig Lutwen and Keegan Pullins, as well is a top-notch returning goalie Andrew Vidrick, so we are stacked in the back end.”
Alexander says Liberty, which placed #10 in the final state poll a year ago, also added a pair of players from AAA, Nik Josefiak and Ben Brown, to compliment a healthy stable of returning forwards.
Alexander, who began serving as co-coach at the beginning of last season, is now the head coach following the resignation of long-time bench boss Jack Hoogeveen during the post-season. Alexander has been coaching with the Patriots since the program launched in 2007-08.
“Our players have a tough schedule with a lot of big games against Toledo and Cleveland teams,” Alexander said when asked what he and his players were looking forward to the most. “But we always get fired up for Jerome and other local teams.”
Columbus St. Charles and Upper Arlington will be looking to move up from the middle of the standings. The Cardinals prepared for league play by winning the White/Blue Division of the Thanksgiving Classic while the Bears finished as the runner-up to Jerome in the top flight.
A young program in New Albany, which finished 1-7-0 in league play but won the consolation bracket of the CBJ Cup, hopes to take that next step. The Eagles had an encouraging result at the Chiller Thanksgiving Tournament when they upset Jerome, 4-3, in a shootout.
Archbishop Moeller moves into the division after winning 24 games playing out of the White Division last year, joining the returning members to make the CHC Red Division a six-team grouping.
Dublin Jerome defeated Upper Arlington, 4-2, in the championship game of the Chiller Thanksgiving Classic
The St. Charles Cardinals won the White/Blue Division of the Thanksgiving Tournament
CHC White Division Preview
Moeller moves up and out, but Bishop Watterson comes up from the Blue Division to replace them and keep the White Division at five teams. Watterson reached the 20-win plateau a year ago and tied Worthington for the Blue Division title at 5-1-0.
With Moeller out of the picture, the door is opened for a new team to claim the division title. The Olentangy Braves and Springboro Panthers finished second and third, respectively a year ago, and will no doubt have their eyes on the top spot vacated by the Crusaders.
Olentangy scored 20 goals while winning three of their four games at the Thanksgiving Tournament, while Springboro tuned up for the season with a pair of wins over former SWOHSHL rivals Troy (5-1) and St. Xavier (4-3 in OT).
Olentangy Orange and Dublin Coffman were the bottom two finishers in the division a year ago. Neither turned in a particularly impressive showing at the Chiller Tournament, but both will try to scrape their way up the league standings this season, competing to stay ahead of the division’s newcomers from Watterson.
CHC Blue Division Preview
It is the Blue Division of the CHC that may be creating the most excitement this winter as the group adds three teams: Columbus Academy, Olentangy Berlin and the return of Dublin Scioto.
The three new kids on the block join holdovers Thomas Worthington, DeSales and Gahanna Lincoln to form a six-team division and bring the CHC to a total of 17 teams.
None of the teams in the Blue Division won more than six games overall last year, so it is a pretty wide-open field. That includes the expansion teams, which have looked strong in the early part of the season.
Berlin has defeated Bishop Watterson twice and tied Worthington, 7-7, in an entertaining game.
Columbus Academy made a splash as well, winning their first two games over Sycamore (4-1) and Scioto (11-3).
Gahanna defeated DeSales to earn second place in their division at the Thanksgiving Tourney, so the Lions look ready to represent the old guard in the division race.
All in all, it will be an exciting season for high school hockey in the Columbus Area.
--- Scott Harrington for Ohio Hockey Digest
Below left: Zack Zielinski (left) scored the Olentangy Berlin hockey team’s first goal and Josh Chmielewski played in goal as the Bears won their inaugural game 4-2 over Watterson on Nov. 17 at Chiller North. [Scott Hennen/ThisWeek]
Below right: Columbus Academy hockey coach Corey Taber talks to his team after an 11-3 win over Dublin Scioto on Nov. 18 at Chiller Dublin. [Frank DiRenna/ThisWeek]
Tag(s): In the News OHD Features High School CHC CHC Red Dublin Jerome Olentangy Liberty St. Charles Upper Arlington New Albany CHC White Olentangy Orange Springboro Dublin Coffman Moeller Olentangy CHC Blue Thomas Worthington Bishop Watterson Gahanna Lincoln DeSales Dublin Scioto Olentangy Berlin Columbus Academy