In a season like no other in high school hockey, there will be some differences and similarities when Columbus hosts the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s annual state tournament on Saturday and Sunday.
The biggest change will be that instead of the games that have been held at the Nationwide Arena as they have been for years, they will be held at the OhioHealth Ice House.
But the passion and drama of the Frozen Four will remain as four schools remain battling for a state championship. And that fits in with a year of teams battling their way through COVID logs, last-minute schedule changes, and all other challenges to get the season started.
They did just that, and now two wins separate a team from one title. The Walsh Jesuit of Toledo St. Charles and Cuyahoga Falls will face each other in the first semifinal on Saturday at 12:00 noon, followed by a 3:30 clash where senior Lakewood St. Edward will face Upper Arlington. After all, the state finale will take place on Sunday at 11 a.m. in the ice house. All games will be broadcast live on NFHS Network.
A new national champion is guaranteed as Cleveland St. Ignatius won four consecutive crowns from 2016-19 before last year’s tournament was canceled. The event features a mix of traditional forces and some new kids on the block, including a Walsh Jesuit team making their first Frozen Four appearance.
A capsule preview for each of the four teams follows. All quotes are from the Ohio Hockey Digest podcast preview podcast which can be heard here.
Lakewood St. Edward
Survey scope of state trainers: 1
Road to the Frozen Four: Seed # 1 in the Brooklyn West Borough; beat Elyria Catholic 11-0; beat Westlake 10-0; beat Avon 10-0; beat Rocky River 6-1
State tournament highlights: 22nd Frozen Four; State champion in 1985, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008
Team Info: St. Edward, a proud program with a cover story under legendary coach Bob Whidden, will seek to keep Catholic schools in the Cleveland area on its first trip to Columbus since 2015. The state’s senior team is likely the favorite after kicking the tournament up to this point. The Eagles were led by strikers Noah Schultz, Sam Kolenich and Jack O’Sullivan and senior goalkeeper Evan Wrightsman.
Quote: “We didn’t know if we were going to have a season so it’s just amazing to be where we are today. I was happy with the competition we played. I was happy with the way how our boys endured. ” The only thing I’ve said to our boys is, “You have to enjoy it. Let’s enjoy it because seniors don’t stand a chance, and for the juniors down it took me 19 years as a coach to get here. So maybe we’ll never be back So just enjoy the ride. ‘”- Head Coach Tim Sullivan
Poll rank of state coaches: 7th
Path to the Frozen Four: Seed # 2 in the Columbus District; beat Columbus Academy 4-0; defeated Olentangy Berlin 2-0; beat Olentangy Liberty 3-2 (OT); beat St. Charles 2-1
State Tournament Highlights: Third Frozen Four; Semi-finals appearances in 2006 and ’07
Team info: The Golden Bears were undefeated last year until they lost in the pre-pandemic district semi-finals, and while this year’s team has lost star power from last year and a few games, UA still has an impressive roster, that of star striker Max Robins is led (36 goals), veteran strikers Adam Karap and Carson Gresock, the return of Sam Burns from a team in Colorado to the team and the outstanding goalkeeper Garrett Alderman.
Quote: “We had a great year last year so there were a lot of great expectations. We lost 10 players so we didn’t have a reset, but we had to build some chemistry and find an identity for our team. We had a little bit of problems lost to some middle division teams with Moeller and Berlin, but we deliberately gave ourselves a tough schedule and as we moved through the season we really got better and better with every game. “- head coach Hamish Baird
Toledo St. Francis
Survey scope of state trainers: 2
Path to the Frozen Four: Seed # 1 in Sylvania County; beat Sylvania Southview 11-0; hit bowling green 4-2; beat Sylvania Northview 5-2
Highlights of the state tournament: 11th appearance at Frozen Four; State champion in 2011 and 2015
Team Info: A Toledo force who has become a mainstay in Columbus with six appearances at Frozen Four over the past seven years, including the fact that St. Francis was the last team to win a title before St. Ingatius. He had qualified for the state tournament a year ago before the pandemic brought things to a standstill. Jon Jaros scored two goals in the district final and Luc Kehr added and assisted there while senior striker Riley Box leads the team with 22 goals. Goalkeeper Jackson Smalley has a GAA of 1.50 online.
Quote: “It was a lot of tires (to jump through) but we also dodged a lot of bullets to get to that point. This is a special thing. I’ve been down here before. It never gets old and every time you come down.” “It’s just as exciting as your first team. I’m proud of our team. The kids are resilient and they just love the sport. They are great kids.” – Head Coach Chris Varga
Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit
Poll rank of state trainers: NO
Road to the Frozen Four: Seed # 3 in the Brooklyn East Borough; beat Cleveland Heights 11-0; Beat Hudson 3-2 (2OT); beat Hunting Valley University School 2-1; beat mentor 3-2
State tournament highlights: First appearance at Frozen Four
Team Info: The Warriors are a well-known sports school in the Cleveland area, but have made history with their appearance at state tournaments. A trio of one-goal wins pushed Walsh Jesuit into the final four, including a district semi-finals from the multi-year Power University School. Striker Joshua Weiner leads the goal and together with Billy Hotlzer and Ryan Kerscher scored a goal in the district final. Goalkeeper Zach Firment allows fewer than two goals per game.
Quote: “Am I surprised that we’re here? A little bit. Mainly because I wasn’t even sure we’d have a season this year. Everything just went together. We’re obviously excited to be there, where we are.” I think we’ve made it to the district finals three times in the past and haven’t been able to overcome that hurdle. I’m just glad we made it to get it done this year. “- Head Coach Peter Calleri