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State's best high school teams head to Nationwide Arena

Four top programs to battle for OHSAA crown on Friday, Saturday

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Yet again, when the Ohio High School Athletic Association's hockey Final Four begins Friday with a pair of semifinal games at Nationwide Arena, the question will be the same:

Can anyone prevent St. Ignatius from repeating? 

The Wildcats have won three state championships in a row and are looking for a fourth, with a balanced lineup and a battle-tested roster ready to take the ice at the home of the Blue Jackets. 

In their way are a trio of decorated programs from across Ohio -- fellow Cleveland area power University School, hometown favorite Dublin Jerome and Toledo-area champ Sylvania Northview. 

Last year, St. Ignatius ran its streak of titles to three in a row, but it wasn't easy, as the Wildcats needed overtime to down a game Toledo St. Francis squad. Is more drama in the cards? 

Time will tell when the games begin Friday. Here's a look at the four teams that will take the ice at Nationwide Arena to battle for a state championship.

All-Tournament Pass  |  Semi-Final Games

Semifinal 1: Dublin Jerome vs. University School, 10 a.m. 

Dublin Jerome Celtics 

State Ranking: 3 

Record: 34-2-1 

Top Scorers: Trent Belli (25-49-74), JP Weaver (39-27-66), Nick Augenstein (30-35-65), Dalton Miller (32-26-58), Avery Mlicki (26-30-56)

Top Goalie: Mark Bishopp, 23-2-0, 1.58 GAA, .923 SV% 

How They Got Here: Defeated Powell Olentangy Liberty as the top seed to capture the Columbus district title. Evan Shea had the only goal of the game in the second period and Bishopp made 18 saves. 

Program History: One of the strongest programs in the central Ohio area, Jerome is in the state Final Four for the third time in the past five years and second year in a row. The Celtics won the Blue Jackets Cup earlier this season. 

Coach Pat Murphy: "One of our team's goals going into this season was to make it back to the final four after a disappointing performance in this same game last year. Everyone has worked very hard to earn this return trip to the Final Four in 2019. Most of our players were on the team last year and all of us are looking forward to another opportunity in the OHSAA state championships. All of us are proud to represent central Ohio and the Capital Hockey Conference as district champions." 

Hunting Valley University School Preppers 

State Ranking: 8 

Record: 19-15-2 

Top Scorers: Jack Henry Muha (15-37-52), Henry Saada (13-35-48), George Brinn (17-23-40), Tyler Alt (22-18-40) 

Top Goalie: Critter Coughlin, 15-12-1, 2.22 GAA, .909 SV% 

How They Got Here: Defeated top-seeded and co-top-ranked Gates Miles Gilmour Academy by a 2-1 score in overtime to win the Kent State district. Henry Thomas scored his first goal of the year just 1:28 into overtime, while Brinn scored and Coughlin had 22 saves. 

Program History: University School is in the Final Four for the fifth straight season but has yet to win it all in that span, finishing as runner-up in 2016. In all, the Preppers have 15 state Final Four appearances and state titles in 2009 and 2003. 

Coach Andy Gurow: "This year's team has tremendous heart and never gives up. Every time they hit the ice they give everything they have from the first whistle to the last. We are honored to represent the Kent District in the Final Four and looking forward to playing at Nationwide." 

Semifinal 2: St. Ignatius vs. Northview, 1 p.m. 

Cleveland St. Ignatius Wildcats 

State Ranking: T-1 

Record: 25-9-1 

Top Scorers: Erik Galauner (15-20-35), Michael Boehm (13-20-33), Alex Bilardo (8-25-33), Joey Trobenter (15-14-29), Connor McGowan (17-8-25) 

Top Goalie: Ben Savarino, 21-7-1, 1.96 GAA, .918 SV% 

How They Got Here: Defeated Parma Heights Holy Name by a 6-0 score in the Brooklyn district final. Six different Wildcats scored, while Savarino finished with 16 saves. 

Program History: The Wildcats are looking for their fourth straight state title and fifth in six years after sharing the crown with Northview in 2014. The Wildcats also have state championships in 2010 and 2000. 

Coach Pat O'Rourke: "We are very excited to be heading to Columbus for this year's Final Four. We have a good squad but we also have a good opponent, so we are expecting a colossal battle on Friday. These teams have met a couple times before in Columbus, so we're no strangers. It should be a fun game." 

Sylvania Northview Wildcats 

State Ranking: 10 

Record: 13-14-6 

Top Scorers: Devon Dohanos (17-15-32), Trevor Klee (11-18-29), Jared Barfell (13-15-28), Jake Ruehle (14-10-24), Justin Beaverson (4-19-23) 

Top Goalie: Tyler Clem, 13-14-6, 3.00 GAA, .866 SV% 

How They Got Here: Defeated top-seeded Toledo St. John's Jesuit by a 4-2 score to win the Sylvania district title. Barfell, fellow senior Justin Baden and Teddy Bugert and Dougie Carter scored, while Clem made 22 saves. 

Program History: Northview is making its 12th state semifinal appearance but first since 2014, when it tied St. Ignatius for the state championship in seven overtimes. The 'Cats won the state title in 2012. 

Coach Steve Elliott: "The team is obviously excited about a return to the Final Four after a four-year absence. We have a strong group of high-quality kids who represent our school, team and community with the highest of character and values both in the school and on the ice. Winning league and state championships is always part of our team goals, but doing it while mentoring young men within the values of representing a school-based hockey team is more important. I'm happy to say that in my 23 years, this 2018-19 team has done that as well as any I have been a part of." 

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