Tom Pokorney sat on the bench in front of his locker in Lindenwood Ice Arena’s visiting locker room as he slowly and calmly bounced his leg listening to “Can’t Stop” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
There was only one thing on his mind.
“Keep things simple and don’t try to do too much,” Pokorney said.
It had been 299 days since the junior defenseman laced up his skates and donned the green and white. He was more than ready to once again take the ice with the Bobcat logo on the front and his name with the No. 4 on the back.
The reason he hadn’t played in a game for the last 299 days was frivolous, but rules are rules. To maintain eligibility to play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, you need to have a certain number of credits at the end of each academic year.
For sophomores heading into their junior year that number is 48.
Pokorney had 47.
“I remember him coming up to me in the rotunda (at Walter Hall) and we we’re ready for our pre-camp meeting,” coach Sean Hogan said. “He told me, and I was just like ‘oh man.' But I knew we were going to be better when he got back.”
The conditions of Pokorney’s ineligible status were simple: He could practice, but he couldn’t play.
And so he followed the rules of his ineligibility and was at practice every day knowing that come Friday and Saturday nights, he couldn’t be where he wanted to be the most. He couldn’t be where he needed to be the most.
“It killed me inside,” Pokorney said. “It hurt because I wasn’t injured or anything. It was because of poor choices that kept me out of the games I should’ve been playing in.”
Ohio has experienced roster instability this season that could’ve seriously hurt it. After the opening series against John Carroll, two players quit, a multitude of injuries made it so the team could dress only 19 players at one point and at the semester’s end, another player (Tom Evans) transferred.
Despite all the adversity, Ohio finished the first half of the season at 17-4-1 and at No. 3 in the nation.
Perhaps one of its greatest victories came at the semester’s end, though, as Pokorney’s eligibility had been reinstated.
“It was awesome,” Pokorney said. “I was looking forward to this more than Christmas. I was just thinking about Jan. 6 every day.”
It was supposed to be a storybook return. Pokorney would return to the bench with his teammates, and they were going to leave Lindenwood with a sweep and hold a good standing in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League.
Only this storybook return was more of a horror story than a fairy tale.
Ohio lost both road games by a combined 10-4 score, and Pokorney only played in one because of a head contact major that resulted in being suspended from the second game against Lindenwood.
“The games didn’t go how I wanted to, but it’s all a learning process,” he said.
It’s been three weeks since Pokorney’s been back full time, and assistant captain and junior defenseman Grant Hazel has seen a big difference in the Bobcats' game.
“Tom’s a really good hockey player. He’s probably one of the best skaters in the league,” Hazel said. “He’s got a lot of skill. He’s a versatile player.”
Not only has Hazel noticed, but Hogan has as well.
“He’s a utility player for us,” Hogan said. “He can play forward, he can play D, and he does a really good job at both.”
For Pokorney, it doesn’t matter whether he plays as a forward or as a defenseman. The only thing that matters to him is that he’s playing again.