Ohio finished its regular season with two more wins than last season’s national-runner up team despite finishing 2018 with eight less players than a year ago.
Through their first 36 games, the Bobcats have done more than overcome that have seemingly never ended for coach Sean Hogan. Ohio has at least two more games left on its schedule with the Central States Collegiate Hockey League postseason tournament and the ACHA national tournament ahead.
Will the Bobcats’ small, but perhaps more talented, roster from a year ago return to the national championship?
As Ohio shifts from the regular season to the post season, hockey beat writers Anthony Poisal and Matt Parker reflect on the good, the bad and the interesting from the regular season and offer their predictions on what’s ahead.
Best Game of the Season
Anthony Poisal (AP): Ohio 1, Lindenwood 0 — Nov. 17.
Buzzer beaters in basketball are always exciting, as are goals scored from behind the net in hockey.
But have you ever seen the two mixed together? I doubt it, unless you were at Bird Arena on that Friday night.
Tyler Harkins gave Ohio its first of two wins that weekend with a goal that bounced off the back of Lindenwood’s goalie and into the back of the net as the final buzzer sounded. It was probably the loudest Bird Arena has gotten all season, but everyone was speechless at the same time.
Matt Parker (MP): Ohio 5, Illinois 3 -- Feb. 9.
In the days that led up to the first game in this series, Ohio seniors Jake Faiella, Mike Palasics and Drew Crandall were plagued with questions about it being their senior weekend and asked to reflect on their time at Ohio. Amid the interviews and emotion, they and the rest of the Bobcats took the ice Friday with only one goal in mind. Win.
For their sake, it took the Bobcats almost the entire game to separate themselves from the Fighting Illini, but behind Palasics's two goals, two goals from junior Tom Pokorney and the sealer from Timmy Thurnau, the Bobcats made their come-from-behind win their most memorable game of the season.
AP: Jamestown 3, Ohio 1 -- Oct. 7
The Bobcats had 48 shots on goal this game. The Jimmies had 22.
Yeah, that game was tough to swallow for the Bobcats.
MP: Robert Morris-Illinois 4, Ohio 1 -- Dec. 1
“That’s the worst game of the year,” coach Sean Hogan said. “That was bad, bad hockey.”
Truly, Hogan hit this right on the money. In every aspect, RMU-I was ready to play on this particular day, and it appeared that Ohio was not. It’s the only game that comes to mind where Ohio was outshot this season.
AP: Ohio’s 5-4 overtime win against Stony Brook on Oct. 20.
You could switch this with my pick for best game, but this was a huge win that foreshadowed how the rest of the Bobcats’ season would be.
This was the first of many games in 2017-18 where Ohio had injured players absent from the lineup, and the Bobcats battled for the overtime win despite blowing two separate leads in the third period.
MP: Pokorney’s first goal
When Pokorney was able to play again for the Bobcats, it took him 11 games to score his first goal of the season. One of Ohio’s most physical players, Pokorney’s on-ice presence elevates the game to a new standard. His first goal also came at the most opportune time, as it was during a 3-2 deficit to the aforementioned Illinois game. Pokorney would score another goal later in the game that gave Ohio its final lead in a 5-3 win.
AP: Bryan Lubin
Several other players significantly increased their points from last season, but no player had a larger difference than the forward. Lubin went from nine points last season to 29 this season, and the junior has been a huge reason why Ohio hasn’t regressed one bit from last year.
MP: Gabe Lampron
A perennial third liner for most of his career at Ohio, Lampron stepped up his play during that six-week stretch where at times, Ohio only dressed 19 players. In the regular season he totaled 22 points, nine goals and 13 assists, compared to last year’s five total points.
AP: The CSCHL is such a tight division — no other division in the ACHA had teams as high as the CSCHL in the national rankings to close the regular season — so I’ll predict that Ohio wins the division’s postseason tournament this weekend in Athens.
But what Ohio really wants is that national title that will send a banner to the rafters at its 60-year-old arena and truly make this season of adversity memorable.
The Bobcats have proved doubters wrong all season. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong in the national championship game on March 13 in Columbus.
Prediction: Ohio falls in the national championship game.
MP: Anthony said it best when he said the CSCHL is a tight division. Week in and week out, we’ve heard that from the coaches and players. That said, Ohio has beaten many odds that have stood in its way this season and will be rewarded for it as it hosts the CSCHL tournament in Bird Arena. The home ice advantage and its first-round bye will give Ohio its first tournament title since 2013.
The national stage is a bit different. While Ohio is practically guaranteed a first-round bye, the different ice size and a short roster have potential to be a real thorn in its side. Again as Anthony said, Ohio has proved critics wrong all year, maybe I’ll be the next one.
Prediction: Ohio loses in the national championship game.