There’s a heavy slate of hockey for Ohio sports fans on Thursday.
While the Blue Jackets are in Detroit for a showdown with the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, it will be four of Ohio’s best high school squads taking to the ice at Nationwide Arena for the Ohio High School Athletic Association ice hockey state semifinals, with the winners returning to play for the state championship on Saturday, Mar. 14.
Toledo St. Francis de Sales and Hunting Valley University School will kick things off at 1 p.m., followed by Lakewood St. Edward vs. Dublin Jerome in the second semifinal at 3:30 p.m. Last year, fans at Nationwide Arena saw one of the best hockey games in Ohio high school history when Sylvania Northview and Cleveland St. Ignatius fought through seven overtimes before coaches and administrators agreed to let the game end in a 1-1 tie, naming both teams co-champions. History tells us anything can happen when these young athletes face-off, so here’s what we can look forward to as we head into an action-packed day of hockey.
Toledo St. Francis Knights vs. Hunting Valley University School Preppers
All four teams in the semi-finals were either a first or second seed in their district in this grueling tournament. That includes No. 1 St. Francis de Sales from the Sylvania District and No. 1 Hunting Valley University School from the Kent District.
St. Francis de Sales (30-5-1) has been an offensive juggernaut in the postseason. In three tournament victories, they’ve beaten their opponents by a combined score of 33-3. Those victories also served as a measure of regular-season revenge for the Knights, shutting out Sylvania Northview and beating Findlay convincingly after those teams had each dealt the Knights 1-0 defeats in January. Keep an eye on Kyle Bloom, who scored five goals for the Knights in their win in the Sylvania District final.
The Preppers (23-11-3) had a little less breathing room on their way to winning the Kent District. After combining for 23 goals in their opening two wins over Chesterland West Geauga and Solon, the Preppers turned to lock-down defense and a two-goal third period rally to squeeze past Gilmour Academy 4-3 and then shutout Mentor Lake Catholic 4-0 in the Kent District Final. Mentor Lake Catholic made it to the state semifinals last season.
The Knights are in search of their second state title in school history and first since 2011. The Preppers are looking for their first title since 2009 and second since 2003. They promise to be a strong matchup, as they proved in January when they played to a 1-1 tie.
Lakewood St. Edward Eagles vs. Dublin Jerome Celtics
The Eagles (25-8-4) have been here before. Lakewood St. Edward won four state titles from 2002-2008 but not one since, with their last appearance in the title game a defeat to Sylvania Northview in 2012. The Eagles lost in the title game in 2011 as well, an overtime defeat to the Knights. This could be the year the Eagles get over the hump and return to glory.
The No. 2 seed in the Brooklyn District came out with three statement wins to open the tournament, scoring in double-digits in all three outings and combining to win by a combined 39-1, including an 11-1 win over No. 3 Rocky River. They could not rely solely on offense in their District Final against Cleveland St. Ignatius. In a gritty, bad-blood affair, the Eagles held off a late surge by the defending co-champions for a 3-2 win. Only the Eagles and Knights have beaten St. Ignatius this season, and the Eagles have proven they can win playing any style of hockey.
The Columbus District’s top-seeded Dublin Jerome Celtics (29-7-2) have grinded their way to their first final four appearance in program history. After taking care of Centerville and Cincinnati St. Xavier in their first two outings, the Celtics battled to a 1-0 win over Olentangy Orange to get to the district final, where they took down Upper Arlington 4-3 in overtime courtesy of an Ian Markovich goal.
After finishing the season tied for ninth in the state poll, the Celtics have been playing close hockey throughout the tournament and might have the good mojo of two dramatic wins to carry them into their semifinal showdown with the Eagles. It will be the teams’ first meeting this season.