At yesterday’s final tryout session, head coach Dan Morris knew his final cut would be the deepest.
Having whittled down the original number of hopefuls looking to make the Bobcats’ final roster from about 40 to 31, Morris had five players fighting for the 26th and final position on his defending Central States Collegiate Hockey League tournament champion roster.
“The top 25 are pretty solid. At 26, 27, 28, it’s going to be really tough,” Morris said before yesterday’s final session. “At that point, you have to look at intangibles.”
Morris headed into the tryouts needing about eight new bodies to fill holes left by last year’s seniors, which he said was a typical number.
This year, instead of scratching and clawing to fill the roster with suitable players, there was plenty of competition for the final spots.
“I’m really happy with the job (last year’s) assistant coaches did recruiting,” Morris said. “From the general comments we got yesterday, everybody was pretty impressed with the level of players we had out there.”
Senior center and last year’s leading goal-scorer, Michael Schultz, echoed his coach’s sentiments.
“I’ve been pretty impressed with some of the recruits that are coming in,” Schultz said. “So far, it’s been pretty good and it looks like we’ll be really good.”
The tryouts got off to a slow start because of leaks in Bird Arena’s cooling system that pushed the on-ice practice sessions back five days — and Morris’ entire preseason schedule along with it.
The team has 10 days before the first game of the season.
But a combination of factors, including a core of experienced returning players and a smaller-than-expected turnout for the tryouts allowed Morris to finalize his schedule at least two days ahead of what he’d originally projected.
Three years ago, the Bobcats had 18 freshmen, Morris said. That youth has been refined into an experienced corps of nine seniors.
“Had it been a younger team, like three years ago, and we’d had the ice issue, we would have been in a bad spot,” Morris said. “This is about the most experience that any team can have. With the players knowing the system and just bringing four or five along, we’re in a much better spot to handle a setback like this.”
The turnout of 40 students was considerably lower than the 50 to 60 the team usually gets. Morris attributed the smaller number to last year’s formation of a Division II team, which also held tryouts this week and also drew about 40 players.
“I think now you see guys kind of sort themselves out,” Morris said. “Now you’re touching 75 to 90 guys in all, where in the past we’ve had 70 kids show up. They know what they want, and they know what they’re getting into with each team being a little different.”
The team starts its regular practice routine today in preparation for the Sept. 24 season opener against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Most of that time will be spent forming lines, defensive pairings and special teams units while also continuing to solve the team’s main hole at goaltender.
With such an experienced returning crew, Schultz said he expected the typical first-week learning curve to be much flatter than usual.
“Everyone pretty much knows the system that coach wants and we’ve played it for three years,” he said. “We’ll be able to get the new guys in to learn the system and get her going right at the start.”