Last season, Ohio fell short of a national championship by 60 minutes and three goals. It had done everything it was supposed to.
The Bobcats beat the teams that stood in the way, except the one that mattered the most.
The 3-0 loss against Central Oklahoma in last season’s national championship has been a constant reminder of coming up short in senior defenseman Jake Faiella’s head since Ohio’s first game in the 2017-18 season against John Carroll.
“I feel happiness and distaste,” Faiella said. “Happiness because of our run but distaste because of the loss last year; we want to fix that this year.”
As the No. 4 seed in a tournament of 20, Ohio will have the least amount of travel to the Ice Haus in Columbus.
The Bobcats are primed yet again to make a deep run into the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament.
Bested in the final game of the year last season, the Bobcats were surrounded by whispers from within the hockey community earlier in the year if they would even be good, let alone make it back to the national championship spot.
“We would hear little rumblings from people saying ‘are they as good as they were last year?’” Faiella said. “We proved that we were based upon our tougher schedule (this year).”
Of the 20 teams that made the national tournament, Ohio has played 10 of them and went 18-8-3 against those 10 teams, including every program from Ohio’s league, the Central States Collegiate Hockey League.
Though Ohio is potentially bound to see a CSCHL rival for either the fifth or sixth time, it won’t see one if it can’t win on Friday. The national stage can give even the most experienced players nerves, but Ohio has a roster with guys who have never played in an atmosphere like the ACHA tournament.
“I’m a little nervous but going to try and take it game by game hopefully,” freshman forward Zach Frank said. “I just need to think of it like another game, only it’s more important.”
Frank and other Bobcats new to the ACHA stage have been at the crutch all week of advice, tips and wisdom from players on the roster, like Faiella, who have been around for two or three years.
“All the captains and seniors, they’ve been trying to tell us that it’s a whole different atmosphere,” Frank said. “It’s just like another game: Be ready, but have fun because it’s a great experience.”
“Another game” might be an odd way to look at a one-and-done tournament, but with such familiarity as a whole and wins under various forms of adversity this season, the circumstances don’t matter much to the Bobcats. They just want to play hockey, and they’ll do it the way they’ve been playing all season.
“We want to work pucks low to high, get pucks to the net and win net-front battles,” coach Sean Hogan said. “That’s how you win championships.”
Ohio’s journey to its fifth national championship starts Friday at 1 p.m. where the team will face No. 13 University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
The Bobcats swept the Rebels in two games by a combined 10-2 score in October.