For the past six weeks, perhaps the biggest weekly questions for an injury-riddled Bobcats team have been how many players they'll be able to dress, and if they'll have enough energy to last the 120 minutes of game time each weekend.
Those questions, however, will persist no more.
The Bobcats have finally shaken off the injury bug that has plagued them since their weekend series Oct. 20-21 against Stony Brook. During the six-week stretch, Ohio saw five players miss separate time with an injury, with each absence cutting deep into the Bobcats' already thin roster of 19 skaters.
The injuries took its toll each weekend on Ohio's energy — the Bobcats' record, however, remained unscathed.
At 14-3-1, No. 4 Ohio stands in second place in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League. The Bobcats, who were ranked No. 8 on Oct. 20, went 8-1-1 across their ensuing 10 games with an injury-hampered roster.
"What we did with the short amount of guys was pretty great," team captain Jake Faiella, one of the five previously injured players to miss time, said. "The record speaks for itself. It's pretty unbelievable."
Coach Sean Hogan, who's been coaching since 2003, had never managed a team as thin as Ohio was during the six-week period. When the injuries grew, the Bobcats frequently played games with as few as 10 forwards and six defensemen. The American Collegiate Hockey Association allows a maximum of 21 players to dress for each game, and most teams frequently have a few extra players as healthy scratches.
Hogan, however, has had previous success with coaching a thin team. As head coach of Oakland in 2007, he led the Golden Grizzlies to an ACHA national championship with just 20 players on the team.
This season, Hogan has led Ohio's limited roster in a similar direction, and the experience over the last six weeks has showed the fourth-year coach that this team's talent is among the deepest he's had since coming to Athens.
"The great thing about this team was that it really showed me everybody's capable," he said. "Everybody's willing to step up and fill in roles that they maybe didn't do before.
"We have a lot of guts. We're mentally tougher than I thought we were, and we have a lot of guts. I'm just really proud of the group and what they did, for sure."
The injuries forced each healthy Bobcat player to maximize conditioning. The toll it took on any given player could be expressed by the barometer of energy Ohio had across the span of a weekend.
On Friday, it was maximum energy, and the Bobcats looked ready to take on anyone. By Sunday, well, not as much.
"Oh man, we were gassed," forward Gabe Lampron said. "Especially on Friday, everyone looks like they just went to war or something. Then after that, it's just like, 'Well, we got to do it again tomorrow.' Then we just dug deep, and we do it again. Then it would be a real lazy Sunday, all beat up."
With four full lines of forwards and seven capable defensemen, Ohio's conditioning and ability to conserve energy is now the least of its worries. Players, like Lampron, who were slated to be bottom-six forwards before the season received both increased ice time during games and additional reps in practice, which only advanced each player's endurance.
Moving forward, Hogan expects the Bobcats to out-muscle opponents in late game contests, which Ohio still managed to do with its thin roster. Six of the Bobcats' eight wins across the six-week period were decided by three or fewer goals.
With four of Ohio's next six series coming against CSCHL opponents, three of which currently rank in the top 11 in the nation, the tight-game scenarios will continue to occur.
But the Bobcats deserved to take a step back and appreciate just how improbable their success has been so far this season. Ohio has managed to somehow improve itself among its injuries, and now the Bobcats have won seven of their last eight games and are knocking on the door for a top three position in the national rankings.
"That's pretty damn good," Hogan said.