Coach Sean Hogan knows that Ohio's series this weekend against Robert Morris-Illinois will be the Bobcats' biggest series of the year.
But the fourth-year coach, as well as the rest of the Bobcats, perhaps feel less pressure adding the label to the upcoming series because the title has already been applied to each of Ohio's final four series of the regular season.
"I think going forward these next four weeks, every weekend's going to be the biggest of the season," Hogan said.
The first quarter of that stretch, on Friday and Saturday in Bensenville, Illinois, will likely be the toughest.
Ohio and Robert Morris are third and fourth respectively in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League and fourth and fifth in the national rankings — a top four finish clinches a first-round bye in the national tournament.
The two sides split their first series of the season in December.
The close games are common in the CSCHL — four of the five teams are separated by six points or less in the standings — but Ohio's rivalry with Robert Morris elevates the stakes whenever the two sides rendezvous, regardless of the two teams' placement in the standings.
It's what led to 45 combined PIMs, which included six from Ohio goalie Jimmy Thomas, in the first series of the season. It's what makes Ohio's weekly preparations for Robert Morris feel slightly different compared to other opponents.
"It does (feel different)," senior team captain Jake Faiella said. "I mean, you really don't want it to. You want to just (think), 'OK, it's another weekend,' and treat it the same as every other (week). We ramp it up a little bit every time we're going in to play them."
While Hogan is aware of the gravity of the pair of games this weekend, he's unaware of how a series win, sweep or tie will affect Ohio's position in the algorithm-based American Collegiate Hockey Association's national rankings.
After Ohio swept Pittsburgh and Robert Morris dropped its two games to No. 10 Iowa State last weekend, Hogan foresaw the flip-flop in Wednesday's release of the rankings: the Bobcats, previously ranked No. 5, leap-frogged Robert Morris.
But Hogan isn't sure how the potential results this weekend will affect Ohio's national ranking. Instead, he offered a much more simpler explanation at what this weekend means for the Bobcats' position moving forward.
"If we win both, it's going to be good. If we lose both, it's not going to be as good," Hogan said.
"It's going to be two tight games for sure."
- Garrett Jenkins (concussion) should return to the ice on Friday, Hogan said. The sophomore, who has played on defense for most of the season, is expected to skate as a forward this weekend, but may move back as a defenseman if necessary.
- Kyle Craddick (lower-body injury) will be out this weekend. The forward is hopeful for a return in February, Hogan said.
Puck drop is set for 7:15 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at Edge Ice Arena.