Ohio may be only two days away from the start of its postseason, but that didn't stop coach Sean Hogan from making perhaps the biggest changes of the season to the Bobcats' lineup.
Tom Pokorney, who has played defense in every game he's skated this season, will skate as a forward. Cody Black, who played forward in every Ohio game he had skated in until last weekend against Iowa State, will remain a defenseman.
The two juniors are essentially switching positional roles with the Bobcats, who are expected to have defenseman Jake Houston and forward Kyle Craddick return from injury Saturday, ahead of the Central States Collegiate Hockey League postseason tournament game against Illinois at 7:30 p.m. in Bird Arena.
Black will likely skate on a defensive pairing with Jake Faiella, whom Pokorney was previously paired with. Pokorney will likely skate as a third-liner, which is where Black previously played in Ohio's forward lineup.
Despite the late timing of the moves, the Bobcats have little reason to worry about potential risks related to the duo's positional adjustments.
He admitted that the adjustment wasn't instant. Black, who hasn't played defense since he was 8 or 9, said it felt weird to coast into the offensive zone as a defenseman rather than skating hard to the boards or after the puck as a forward does in transition to offense.
After a period or two of acclimation, however, Black felt comfortable with the new positioning required from defense and was able to simplify the game.
"I thought I played pretty well," he said. "I stayed conservative, kept it real simple. Not going to get out in the open and do too much over my head."
Pokorney doesn't have much recent experience as a forward. In his first two years with Ohio, he occasionally moved up to the offensive-oriented position when Hogan needed an extra skater. Those opportunities, however, were never as a starter or on a concrete line combination.
Pokorney, now with his own line composed of himself, Craddick and Drew Crandall in practice this week, said he has always felt more comfortable as a forward.
"I don't really prefer either of (the positions)," Pokorney said. "On defense, I feel like I'm not as good as I would be as a forward. I just enjoy all the aspects of playing forward — scoring goals, making assists and making plays."
Hogan actually considered moving Pokorney to forward before the season began, but Ohio's roster couldn't carry Pokorney's transition when he returned from his academic ineligibility that forced him to miss all games in the 2018 Fall Semester.
In his 11 games with Ohio in 2018, Pokorney has shown flashes of offensive talent that made a move to forward seem appropriate. He has collected seven points in 2018 and scored one of the prettier goals of the Bobcats' season on against Illinois.
With Houston and Craddick returning to the roster and Black officially moving to defense this weekend, Pokorney can finally make the switch without shortening Ohio's defensive depth.
"I think he's been wanting to play forward since his freshman year," Hogan said. "He skates unbelievably well. He's got a good, long stick, he can forecheck and he's good with the puck. He has a lot of innate talent. We just got to get him to channel it."
- Craddick (lower-body injury) is expected to play in his first game since Dec. 1.
- Houston (upper-body injury) is expected to play in his first game since Jan. 7.
- Defenseman Nick Grose (upper-body injury) is questionable to play on Saturday.
- If Ohio wins Saturday, the team will advance to the CSCHL playoff championship on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Bird Arena.