When forward Matt Rudin skated to the locker room grasping his left shoulder in pain after the first period of Friday's game, Ohio needed someone to step up.
The Bobcats, down 1-0 after the first period, already had two players out of the lineup due to injury. Forward Tyler Harkins and defenseman Garrett Jenkins, who both sustained lower-body injuries in Ohio's previous series against UNLV, were watching the game from behind the glass. Rudin eventually joined them.
After No. 11 Stony Brook added another goal to make it 2-0 just 24 seconds into the second period, No. 8 Ohio needed to quickly find a solution in penetrating Stony Brook's defense. The task seemed difficult, especially since the Bobcats had just 16 skaters on the bench.
But with just three lines of forwards, Ohio fought back to tie the game with a pair of goals minutes apart to end the second period — the Bobcats came out victorious in overtime after a wild back-and-forth third period.
It was Ohio's first test of overcoming injury adversity this season, and it won't be the last. Rudin is expected to be out with a broken left clavicle until late December, coach Sean Hogan said. The Bobcats will have just 11 available forwards until then, and any further injuries will cut deeper into the team's energy tank during games.
Ohio assured itself this weekend, however, that it can still compete and win games with the smaller roster. Its back-end players were the ones who stepped up and took advantage of the increased playing time.
Rudin and Harkins were both top-six forwards for the Bobcats. Harkins was second on the team with 12 points while Rudin played on the first line combination and complemented forward Gianni Evangelisti, Ohio's leading scorer.
To fill the gap, defenseman Tom Evans, who had just one point up until this weekend, tallied two assists Friday and an assist in Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss.
Forwards Gabe Lampron, Drew Crandall and Kyle Craddick and defenseman Shawn Baird, who had four combined goals all season — until last Friday, when each contributed a goal against Stony Brook.
"Everyone's going to get a chance to play a lot," Evans said. "We've got to step up and be a player. Everyone here can play. We're missing some of our guys ... You know you got to fill roles if you want to win hockey games."
Scoring goals wasn't the only thing Ohio's back-end players did to help the team compete. Several players blocked key shots and delivered big hits as each game's time wound down and intensity picked up.
The effort showed a lot about the team's commitment, forward Mike Palasics said.
"When we lose a couple guys like that and you still see guys on our team going out there and blocking shots and they're still making hits, making big plays?" he said. "That's when you know you've got the right guys on your team. ... I know (on Friday) after the second period, if you were to walk into our locker room, there were guys laying on the floor, ice bags all over the place. It looked like a war zone, honestly. It takes a lot out of you, man, it definitely does."
With Rudin's absence, Ohio will likely utilize a variety of mixed forward lines as it did in Saturday's game. Harkins returned to the lineup on Saturday, but the Bobcats still did not have a complete fourth line, which forced some wingers to play every other shift.
If Ohio's back-end players continue to produce, the burden on its top players will be lessened, and the Bobcats will less frequently need wingers to double their shifts.
That will allow Ohio to continue competing against tough opponents, which make up the majority of its schedule, as it did Friday and Saturday.