Gianni Evangelisti wasn't sure why he was being called into coach Sean Hogan's office last Thursday.

Ohio was leaving for Bensenville, Illinois, in just over 12 hours for its biggest series of the year — two games against Central States Collegiate Hockey League-foe Robert Morris-Illinois. 

The Bobcats were expecting the series to be one of their toughest of the season, but they weren't expecting the news that Hogan was about to deliver to Evangelisti, Ohio's leader in points.

Evangelisti, as well as defenseman Shawn Baird, were both suspended for the Bobcats' first game against the Eagles on Friday. The two were involved in a prolonged scuffle with Pittsburgh players in Ohio's series Jan. 20, and American Collegiate Hockey Association notified Hogan on Thursday that it had reviewed the video and needed to issue a suspension.

The timing of the ACHA's announcement didn't sit well with Hogan.

"I was a little upset because I didn't like the way it went down," he said. "In terms of the video review, I mean, I didn't find out until Thursday. I didn't like that."

Evangelisti and Baird's absence on Friday gave No. 4 Ohio a slim 16 skaters and an even slimmer chance at a win, yet it still managed to sweep then-No. 5 Robert Morris-Illinois and burst into the top spot in the CSCHL standings. A regular season finish in first place in the CSCHL standings clinches a first-round bye in the divisional tournament from Feb. 23-25, and a top-four national ranking seals a first-round bye in the national tournament in March.

In sweeping the Eagles, the Bobcats had battled off another wave of adversity from the unexpected and untimely suspension. Similar waves, mostly in the form of injuries and a shortened roster, have slammed the Bobcats all season.

But among the waves, the Bobcats have stayed afloat, maybe even almost entirely dry.

At 22-7-1, Ohio is right next to where it was at this time last year. The 2016-17 Bobcats that were a win away from a national title entered last February with a 21-4-1 record and a roster of 25 skaters. The Bobcats currently have 19 skaters.

Since the season began on Sept. 22, Ohio has had three players voluntarily leave the team, two players suffer long-term injuries that scratched them for at least six games and a myriad of smaller injuries that have come right when it seemed like the Bobcats were finally about to revive its roster.

The standard roster format most ACHA teams have in dressing at least 12 forwards has become a luxury for Ohio. Until last Saturday, the Bobcats didn't have 12 forwards play for a full game since Oct. 14 against University of Nevada-Las Vegas. The streak stopped only because Garrett Jenkins, who transitioned from a forward his freshman season to defense this season, played as Ohio's 12th forward on Saturday.

With six games left in the regular season, the adversity, particularly the injury bug, hasn't escaped Ohio — Jake Houston, who leads the Bobcats' defensemen with 20 points, is nursing a shoulder injury suffered last Saturday and isn't expected to play this weekend against Oakland. Forward Kyle Craddick, who's been out since Dec. 1 with a lower-body injury, has yet to return to practice.

But after sweeping Robert Morris-Illinois last weekend, the Bobcats' confidence is at an all-time high.

"That RMU team, they're good, but we're all bought-in now and we all play together and play for each other," Baird said.

Hogan has never coached a team that has shrunken as small as Ohio has this season, but his team's success with the small roster has only furthered his faith.

We've really set ourselves up that, down the stretch here, to have some success," Hogan said. "What we've been able to do with this group, to me..."

Hogan briefly paused.

"I'm just impressed."

@anthonyp_2

ap012215@ohio.edu

Comments powered by Disqus