A blue bucket filled with hockey pucks was dumped onto the thin sheet of the Bird Arena ice. Ohio players’ ripped off shots, hoping one would find the back of the net. For Garrett Jenkins, making those shots was about as easy as tying his shoes.
What has taken some time for Jenkins, however, is adjusting from firing shots at the opposing net to defending his own; Jenkins has transitioned to a defensemen.
Every fall, the Bobcats host tryouts for the team in which they can hopefully find the last piece of the missing puzzle.
With only six eligible defensemen on the roster, coach Sean Hogan and his staff were tasked with looking for one or two more defensemen to complete said puzzle.
Prior to the tryouts, Jenkins took it upon himself to tell his coaches to give him a look at defensemen.
Ultimately, nobody stood out enough to make the cut. Ohio had its last puzzle piece the entire time, only it was in the form of a forward.
“Right before try-outs, I told (Hogan) to take a look at me (on defense),’ Jenkins said. “He took a look and well, here we are.”
And so from then on, Jenkins’ main focus wasn't to score goals anymore or to be expecting the centering pass down the lane. His role on the team changed, yet he remains the same player. Sort of.
Learning a new position at such a high level could have been daunting for most. Jenkins however, had prior experience as a defenseman previous to Ohio.
“The last time I had played (as a) defenseman was probably in my major-minor years,” Jenkins said. “That was probably four or five years ago.”
As a former member of the Compuware U16 team of the High Performance Hockey League in Canada, Jenkins saw time as a defenseman in an attempt to become a more well-rounded player.
With just one season spent as a defenseman, the learning curve was wide, yet shallow all at once.
“Garrett’s a smart player,” said Grant Hazel, a fellow defenseman and junior assistant captain. “He thinks the game right and he’s a quick learner.”
Hazel, along with the other defensemen on the team, has played a huge role in Jenkins’ position change. Hazel, along with senior captain Jake Faiella, talked with Jenkins about making the potential shift.
“We thought the switch was going to be good for him,” Hazel said. “His sense for where the puck is going to go and his anticipation (for the game) are really good.”
As practices began in August, Jenkins could be seen skating around the ice with his two defensemen captains along with returners Jake Houston, Tom Evans and Tom Pokorney, as well as the newest members of the Bobcats’ defensive corps, Shawn Baird and Nick Grose.
From the transition game to special teams play, Jenkins’ teammates and coaches have seen his consistent improvement in his game — especially Hogan.
“He’s done well, he’s learned the position well,” Hogan said. “His breakout passes have gotten a lot better.”
In Hogan’s eyes, the position switch is bigger than just a change. To him, it speaks volumes of the kind of teammate that Jenkins is.
“To be able to do that, to switch from forward to D, that shows just what kind of a teammate you are,” Hogan said. “It’s helped us a lot.”
It would seem for Jenkins, the switch has been uncharacteristically easy, but one thing still is slowing down his development.
The mental aspect.
“I’m still learning and it’s tough,” Jenkins said. “You’ve got to think the game differently and at times, I still see it as a forward.”
It’s pretty clean-cut for the most part; defensemen should see the game in how to stop the other team from scoring. But in Jenkins’ case, he adds an element to Ohio’s game that it thinks it could use in the long run.
“It helps (at times) that he sees it (as a forward),” Hogan said. “He gets the puck to the net-front and understands where goals are scored from and he gets himself to the scoring zone (as a defenseman).”
Ultimately for the Bobcats, Jenkins is a versatile player in the making. With his experience as a forward and his continuation in the development as a defenseman, Jenkins could be a dangerous player for the Bobcats.
But for now, he’s just fine being the last piece to the puzzle this season.