The Generals never have been whole this season.
Players have been in and out of the lineup and, when leading scorer Levi Beckholt returned for the final game of the regular season, defenseman Cody Baldwin was lost to a knee injury early in the second period. The Generals, however, received a pleasant surprise a week later just before the Blue Jackets Cup.
Cole Jaquith, who had been out with an injury since November, returned to the lineup. He had been cleared for contact three days before.
“It made a huge difference,” coach Don Jennings said. “It just gave us another tremendous option. He started, and we thought we would just give him limited ice time. But he got a lot and helped us out a great deal.”
With Jaquith back in the fold, Newark played its best hockey of the season. The third-seeded Generals fought back through the loser’s bracket, upsetting regular-season Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League champion Westerville before losing to Northeast in triple overtime in the first title game.
In the Blue Jackets Cup, Chase Cherubini had five goals while Jaquith, Cullen Blaney and Beckholt each added four. Zavier Mealick had six assists. The Generals scored at least four goals in five of the six games.
“When you look down the bench and see one more (options) in a difficult situation with penalties or whatever, it really helped us out to have Cole back,” Jennings said. “He was shooting the puck well. It was a huge bonus to the team. Six games in four days, we needed an extra body, and he came along just at the right time.”
The overtime periods were five minutes apiece and played at 4-on-4. Jennings credited goaltender Charlie Smart for keeping the Generals in the game early before they settled down.
“It was just unbelievable,” Jennings said. “We don’t practice much 4-on-4. We just don’t have that opportunity to devote that time. They were so strong 4-on-4. To my mind, we had equal opportunities with Northeast during the overtime.”
The Generals now have had a week to recharge for one final weekend. They begin play in the Buckeye Cup state tournament Friday. The tournament will be staged in Gates Mills at Gilmour Academy.
The Generals will play Mason, tournament favorite Medina and North Royalton during pool play. The top four teams among the three four-team pools advance to the semifinals.
Newark won the state tournament in 2009 and 2012.
“Our guys always seem to pull well together at this time of the year,” Jennings said. “You can’t imagine how proud I was of last weekend when they come from third place in the league and end up beating the first-place team and the fourth-place team all on the way to losing in triple overtime to the second-place team, which was in my mind the best team in the league.”
With only four seniors and their top scorer only a sophomore, it has been a roller-coaster ride for the Generals. Just when it appeared they were ready to make their patented late-season run, they suffered three consecutive lopsided losses.
Newark, however, got the ship righted just in time for the Blue Jackets Cup, and the Generals traditionally never are an easy out in the state tournament. They do know who they would like to see one more time.
“Northeast Storm, we struggled with them all year,” Jennings said. “For our team to be able to just lose to them by one goal in the first go-around and to lose by one goal in triple overtime in the championship game, that was really a positive thing for us. Hopefully, we can carry it on.”