Upper Arlington was 36-0-1 under former head coach Brett Howden heading into last year’s Columbus District semifinal against New Albany. The Golden Bears were upset in that game and, while the team has not been as dominant during the 2020-21 regular season, the memory of what happened a year ago has motivated them to make good on their opportunity this time around.
They started by defending their Capital Hockey Conference tournament championship, winning the Blue Jackets Cup with a come-from-behind victory against top-seeded St. Charles.
“It was an historic win for our program,” said first-year head coach Hamish Baird. “We came in and worked hard and our boys really wanted it.”
Now the Bears set their sights on for the district title that eluded them a year ago.
“We feel like we have some unfinished business and have a shot at making a run to the district title,” Baird said. “We are very much looking forward to getting started.”
Junior forward Max Robins sparked the comeback in the CBJ Cup Final, scoring the game-tying and -winning goals in a 3-2 win. They were his 28th and 29th goals of the season in just 24 games played.
“That’s the kind of season he’s had”, said Dave Purpura of This Week News. “He has certainly become the go-to guy for them in big situations.”
Another player that endured last year’s heart-breaking loss in the districts and is back playing like a man on a mission is senior goaltender Garrett Alderman, who rocked a .934 save percentage in league play.
The brackets are set in the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s four districts but, before we reach the post-season at the state level, high school hockey teams are battling for their respective league tournaments across the Buckeye state.
In Columbus, the Blue Jackets Cup has reached the semifinals. The top four seeds all survived quarterfinal challenges, including Thomas Worthington putting a scare into top-seeded St. Charles, which pulled out a 2-1 win.
The Cardinals, ranked #7 in the state, now go up against #9 Olentangy Orange in the 6:00 semifinal Saturday at Ice Haus. That game will be followed by Olentangy Liberty and Upper Arlington at 8:00 p.m.
Both games are very evenly matched.
Orange defeated St. Charles, 4-3, on January 10. The Cardinals returned the favor, by a score of 5-2, on February 5.
Liberty and UA split their season series as well, trading shutouts three days apart between Christmas and New Year’s. Upper Arlington brought a three-year Dublin Jerome CBJ Cup championship run to an end last season. The Celtics qualified this year at #5 and were eliminated by Orange.
New Albany, the top seed in the Consolation Bracket of the CBJ Cup, is still alive and two wins away from winning that playoff. They face Olentangy at 2:00 p.m. Saturday. Dublin Coffman and St. Xavier go up against each other in the 4:00 semifinal.
In Southwest Ohio, the Southwest Ohio High School Hockey League tournament has also entered the final four. The top two seeds, Beavercreek and Archbishop Alter, separated themselves from the pack over the course of the league schedule and earned first-round byes. Both teams will be taking the ice for the first time in the post-season when they face Troy and Mason, respectively on Saturday at South Metro Sports and try to set up what would be a much-anticipated championship game on Sunday.
The Great Lakes Hockey League’s Cleveland Cup will see a re-match of last year’s championship game after St. Edward, the #1 seed and top-ranked team in the state, edged Walsh Jesuit 3-0 in the early semifinal Friday, then Gilmour Academy got past University School 1-0 in an overtime thriller in the nightcap at OBM Arena in Strongsville.
Gilmour defeated St. Edward, 3-1, for their second Cleveland Cup win in three years in 2020. The Eagles own more state championships than any other program in Ohio history (11) but have yet to win a Cleveland Cup in the eight years since the formation of the GLHL.
St. Edward head coach Tim Sullivan, who won the GLHL Coach of the Year for the third time, led Holy Name to the title in 2019, so he has been here before.
At Brooklyn Rec Center, the Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League has three Baron Cup tournaments running simultaneously to crown the champions of their three divisions. This year, with the uncertainly of the league schedule, the GCHSHL decided to let every team into the tournament instead of qualifying the top eight teams in each division per usual.
It was an unplanned way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Baron Cup.
In Baron Cup III (Blue Division), top-seeded Chagrin Falls is already through to the finals where they will face Canfield at 1:00 p.m. on Championship Sunday. Neither team has made it to the title game since Chagrin Falls in 2009 when they lost to Solon. The Tigers defeated Lakewood to win it all in 2008.
Olmsted Falls and Parma will face off Saturday at 1:00 p.m. in the first semifinal game of Baron Cup II while Avon and Avon Lake will renew their rivalry at 3:00. The winners will meet Sunday at 3:00 p.m. to crown the White Division champion.
This year’s champ will end the three-year reign of Amherst Steele, which has moved up to the Red Division. Olmsted Falls, 2017, was the last team to win before Amherst’s run.
Rocky River and Mentor, which both have received votes in the state coaches poll this season, finished in the top two spots in the Red Division and received first-round byes in the Baron Cup. They will make their post-season debuts Saturday when they take on Amherst Steele and Hudson, respectively.
Sunday’s 5:00 p.m. Baron Cup title game, the 50th in history, will cap off the triple-header championship Sunday.
If the top two seeds make it, it will be the third straight season that the Pirates and Cardinals meet in the Baron Cup championship game. Mentor won in both 2020 and 2019.
--- Scott Harrington for Ohio Hockey Digest
The latest Ohio High School Hockey Coach’s Poll was released on Tuesday and it was the closest any team has come to bumping St. Edward from the #1 spot all season. The Eagles have been #1 in every weekly poll so far, but this week the Toledo St. Francis Knights came in just one point behind them, after receiving four of the 10 first-place votes cast.
The next three spots remained the same with Gilmour Academy, Saint Ignatius and Sylvania Northview rounding out a top five that has been solidified for a few weeks now.
University School, on a 5-0-1 run, moved up to #6, swapping places with Olentangy Orange, which dropped down to #7 following a pair of losses last weekend.