Another strong challenge awaits Bobcats as they begin two week road trip.
A week ago No. 5 Ohio was let off the hook when it survived a lackluster Friday night showing against Syracuse, with an eventual triumph in overtime.
It will be difficult to get by with the same kind of performance this weekend, however, as the Bobcats (8-1-1) head to Illinois for a Central States Collegiate Hockey League matchup against the 11th-ranked Fighting Illini.
“The first twenty minutes are very important,” coach Sean Hogan said. “It’s important that you go out and play a good road game by keeping possession of the puck, limiting turnovers and giving yourself a chance.”
The Bobcats showed a strong ability to use the first period to their advantage last Saturday, when they netted three before the first buzzer sounded, eventually leading to a 5-1 win. Ohio has scored an average of 1.4 goals per game in the first period, while scoring 1.5 goals per game in the second and 1.1 in the third.
The slow start to the opening game against Syracuse doesn’t take much away from the momentum the Bobcats will have this weekend. The team is coming off a sweep of the Orange, which followed a tie and dominant victory at then-No. 2 Robert Morris the weekend prior.
Ohio will also be closer to full strength in terms of injuries than it has been in weeks. Diego Breckenridge and Patrick Spellacy returned last weekend from injury, and Reilly Moore may be able to return for the Bobcats this weekend.
Illinois (8-1) presents a unique challenge for the Bobcats because of the size of its ice surface, which is the biggest in the country. University of Illinois Ice Arena’s surface is 197 ft. by 115 ft., which is almost as long as — and also wider than — an Olympic rink, that reaches 200 ft. by 100 ft.
Despite the difference Illinois’ playing surface size will bring, the Bobcats believe it could actually play to their advantage, allowing them to utilize their speed more than usual, while not disarming the role their physicality will play in the game.
“It’ll take some time to get used to it, but we’re still definitely going to have to set the tone with the body,” forward Joe Breslin said. “The biggest part of our forecheck is the first guy taking the body and getting that puck loose, so we’re still going to have to find a way to take that body and set the tone.”
Breslin leads the team in scoring entering the weekend with 11 points (6 goals and 5 assists). Defenseman Paul Sergi, forward Liam Geither and forward Nathan De La Torre all enter the weekend with 10 points each, with De La Torre coming off with a hat trick in the second game against Syracuse last weekend.
Breslin has led the Bobcats in scoring entering every weekend this season.
“I’ve just been staying focused every weekend, making sure I’m up-to-par night in and night out,” Breslin said. “You can’t take any nights off in this league because any team can beat you.”
Illinois is two weeks removed from its only loss of the season, a road defeat at Colorado State. The Illinois offense is led by John Olen, who has accumulated 12 points on 6 goals and 6 assists. Illini wings Jack Soneson and Eric Cruickshank sit right behind Olen with 11 and 10 points, respectively.