In his closing message to his team following the USA Hockey high school national championships, Hilliard club hockey coach Jake Trask thanked the seniors for their contributions to the program.
He then told the players eligible to return to use the memories collected this season as motivation in hopes of getting back to nationals a year from now.
The Wildcats closed the most successful season in program history by competing at nationals, which were held March 24-28 in Plano, Texas.
Hilliard went 2-1 at the event to finish ninth of 16 teams in pool play, as the top eight teams advanced to championship play.
“The seniors were our backbone all year long,” Trask said. “They were awesome leaders, role models for our younger group. I can’t thank them enough for all the hard work and commitment that they put in this year. The goal every year is to win state and then be able to go to nationals and have an opportunity to compete against the best teams in the country.”
The Wildcats, who qualified by winning the Buckeye Cup state tournament March 6, opened with a 4-3 loss to Lincoln (Nebraska) on March 24.
Hilliard rebounded with a 4-3 overtime win over Salt Lake City on March 25 as senior forward Owen Ambrozy (Davidson) recorded a hat trick, including the game-winning goal.
The Wildcats closed the tournament with a 4-0 victory over Greenville (South Carolina) on March 26 to finish 40-14-6 overall.
“All in all, it was a good experience and it makes you realize the margin of error is so small for each team,” Trask said. “Other than two periods the whole time, we played really well.”
Ambrozy, who was one of five seniors, led the team in scoring with 36 goals and 18 assists.
“Going to nationals was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I’ll never forget,” he said. “From the competition to the experience itself at nationals, everything was top-notch. Although we didn’t get the outcome we hoped for, falling one point short of the final eight and going 2-1 was nothing for us to hang our heads on.”
Other top players on offense were senior Hayden Clingman (Bradley; 27 goals, 16 assists), sophomore forward Dominic DelBoccio (Bradley; 15 goals, 18 assists), junior forward Aiden Van Deusen (Davidson; 12 goals, 21 assists), senior center Rob Slivon (Davidson; 14 goals, 17 assists) and senior defenseman AJ Sawicki (Darby; 8 goals, 23 assists).
“Nationals was a great experience,” Slivon said. “Even though we didn’t make it into the next round, it was still a fantastic experience. It was our goal to get here from the start.”
Hilliard received solid play throughout the season from a pair of goalies. Junior Mason Sines (Fairbanks) finished 25-11-3-1 with a 2.45 goals-against average and sophomore Wes Reichman (Darby) went 15-1-3-1 with a 1.87 goals-against average.
Competing in its 14th consecutive state tournament, Hilliard captured its first state title and secured its berth to nationals with a 2-1 win over Ohio Scholastic Hockey League rival Dayton.
“After the way that last season ended, losing in the state semifinal (to Medina), we had big goals and big expectations coming into this year,” Slivon said. “We were really looking forward to getting another shot at the (Blue Jackets) Cup and the state tournament to prove ourselves. We had the state tournament on our radar for a long time and we were really excited to get the state title.”
The Wildcats finished second (20 points, 10-4) to Dayton (28, 14-0) in the OSHL regular season and then lost to the Stealth 3-2 in the CBJ Cup league tournament final Feb. 13.
•Record: 40-14-6 overall
•OSHL standings: Dayton (28, 14-0), Hilliard (20, 10-4), Newark (18, 8-5-2), Westerville (9, 4-8-1), Northeast (9, 4-8-1) , PHA (0.0-15)
•Seniors lost: Owen Ambrozy, Hayden Clingman, Alex Kerr, AJ Sawicki and Rob Slivon
•Key returns: Dominic DelBoccio, Wes Reichman, Mason Sines, Christian Sohner, Luke Starr and Aiden Van Deusen
•Post season: final Miami 3-1; final final Canton 8-2; final Medina 2-0; final Cincinnati 4-2; final Dayton 2-1 in Buckeye Cup state final; lost to Lincoln (Nebraska) 4-3; final Salt Lake City 4-3 (OT); final Greenville (South Carolina) 4-0 in USA Hockey high school national championships pool play