In the corner of the OhioHealth Ice Haus, there are two locker rooms for high school hockey teams - one for Upper Arlington High School, the other for St. Charles Preparatory School.
So maybe it's only fitting the familiar foes took to the ice surface Sunday in a battle for the Blue Jackets Cup championship for the second straight season.
"St. Charles is sort of our rival," UA head coach Hamish Baird said. "We're rinkmates and friends. A lot of our players grew up with their players and they know each other. Oftentimes, they practice right after us, so we're walking out when they're walking in. Those things make for a really fun, friendly rivalry."
One thing is for sure -- Sunday ended up being more fun for Baird and the Golden Bears than it was for the Cardinals. Second-seeded Upper Arlington rallied from a 2-1 deficit to take a 3-2 victory in the tournament's title game, earning the Cup and taking the championship of the Capital Hockey Conference.
It was Upper Arlington's second-ever Blue Jackets Cup championship - and its second in a row, as the Golden Bears also won it a year ago with a title-game win over the same St. Charles program.
"It was such a fun game," Baird said. "Our players, our staff and our parents are just thrilled. It was a fun, highly competitive game, so those are always the best wins."
Upper Arlington took a 1-0 lead in the first period when Nolan Adams scored on an odd-man rush, but top-seeded St. Charles replied with goals early in the second period from Erich Schoettmer and Tristan Fahs.
From there, Max Robins took over. The Upper Arlington forward, who had scored the game-winning goal in a triple overtime semifinal win over Olentangy Liberty, tied the score late in the second with a shorthanded goal when he deked past a defenseman and scored on a breakaway past Cardinals goalie Grant Wolf.
The winning tally came with 12:17 to go in the third when Carson Gresock won a faceoff back to Robins, who quickly fired a shot past Wolf to set what would become the final score. UA goalie Garrett Alderman closed the door from there, finishing with a total of 17 saves.
Baird said the winning goal was far from serendipity, as Golden Bears assistant coach Derek Dorsett, a former Blue Jackets forward, installed the play in practice.
"Derek Dorsett is one of the coaches on the staff and he's been working with the forwards on the power play and also faceoff plays, and that was one of the things we've worked on," Baird said. "To see it come to fruition and actually work and score a goal was pretty great. That's what makes it all worthwhile."
Upper Arlington improved 18-9-0-3 on the year, a far cry from last year's unbeaten record the team sported when it won the Blue Jackets Cup. But Baird pointed to a culture instilled over past years that allowed the team to overcome the losses of such standouts as forwards Sam Burns, Will Cohen, Tim Kremer and Will Lawless from last year's team.
It helped the Golden Bears returned Alderman, the standout goalie, and rallied around such players as captains Adam Karap and Whitty Tevonian as well as glue players like Adams, Gresock, Sam Cannon and Jack Norris. Despite seeing half the roster turn over from a year ago, UA was able to duplicate its success this year with a veteran crew (the roster features zero freshmen).
"We still have a good core group of players," Baird said. "We had some of the pieces of the puzzle already there, especially with how tight the boys are in the room. They come out and they work hard and they work by example, and I think that helped get some of the newer players up to speed quickly."
Upper Arlington opened the tournament with a 5-0 win over seventh-seeded Olentangy Berlin, then needed the three overtimes to escape with a 2-1 victory over third-seeded Olentangy Liberty that featured 44 saves from Alderman. St. Charles opened with a 2-1 win over eighth-seeded Thomas Worthington, then used a shutout from Wolf to get past fourth-seeded Olentangy Orange by a 1-0 score in the other semifinal.
With the conference season now over, sights are now set on the OHSAA state tournament, which begins this week. The Columbus district features 25 teams, with the bracket working its way to semifinals Feb. 28 and the title game slated for March 6. The district winner will advance to the four-team state tournament, which is to be played at the Ice Haus on March 13-14.
The bracket sits up similarly to the Blue Jackets Cup, with St. Charles holding the top seed, Upper Arlington second and Liberty third, with Orange in the No. 5 spot and a potential quarterfinal matchup against fourth-seeded Oxford Talawanda.
Considering how closely contested the CBJ Cup games were, Baird expects another battle to the finish.
"You can't take any of these games for granted," he said. "This year there is so much competition. It's up for grabs a little bit. There's no clear team that is head and shoulders above the rest in Columbus, so it's kind of anybody's ballgame."
Also over the past weekend, three more central Ohio high school hockey championships were determined. In the varsity consolation bracket featuring the 11 CHC teams that did not qualify for the championship side, Cincinnati St. Xavier came away on top with a 7-4 win over New Albany in the title game. In the Capital Hockey Conference's JV bracket, Olentangy Liberty came out on top with a 2-1 overtime win over Upper Arlington.
Meanwhile, in the Ohio Scholastic Hockey League -- which features teams from central and southern Ohio that represent school districts without varsity programs -- the Dayton Stealth followed an unbeaten regular season with a 6-2 win over the Hilliard Wildcats in the title game.