No. 3 Bobcats welcome the inconsistent Scarlet Knights to Bird Arena
Sometimes the only thing that can stop a red-hot team like Ohio is having a long enough break to allow it time to cool off.
Ohio will put its undefeated home record and six-game win streak on the line this weekend when it hosts Rutgers at Bird Arena. Its two games will start at 7:30 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.
The games against Rutgers (3-11) will be Ohio’s first action since Nov. 22. The team was off the ice from Nov. 23 until Dec. 1 for its extended Thanksgiving break.
Having a break that long at this point in the season has positives for a physical team like the Bobcats.
“I think all of us had some bumps and bruises after the beginning of the season,” forward Matt Wipper said. “Moving forward, (the break is) beneficial, definitely.”
Despite a very poor record, Rutgers is not an opponent that coach Sean Hogan is taking lightly. The Scarlet Knights kept up with No. 1 Arizona State back in November, but lost by scores of 4-0 and 4-3.
“They’re well-coached,” Hogan said. “They’re going to be good. They’re going to give us a battle for sure.”
Hogan said that every team in Division I American Collegiate Hockey Association is competitive on any given night.
One example that hits home for Ohio (16-2-2) is a matchup against West Virginia earlier this year when the Bobcats beat the Mountaineers 8-1 Friday and lost 1-0 Saturday.
According to Wipper, Hogan increased the amount of conditioning work in practice this week to keep the team sharp and help regain athleticism. Getting out of Ohio’s normal weekly rhythm, which includes practice every weekday and two games on the weekend, can be challenging to readjust.
“The first couple of days we definitely (felt) out of shape coming back to practice,” Wipper said. “But once you get your legs back, it’s pretty much back to normal.”
One place where the Bobcats have always shown consistency this season is in the crease. Aaron Alkema, Ryan Heltion and Scott Boyd have a combined 1.05 goals against average and a 0.941 save percentage.
Hogan has expressed confidence in all three of the goaltenders, but appears to be giving Alkema the nod for this coming weekend. Alkema hasn’t played since the Nov. 14-15 weekend against Lindenwood, when he posted a 2-0 record and allowed just two goals.
“Alkema is getting kind of the bulk of the starts, but we’re going to keep giving (all three goalies) an opportunity,” Hogan said. “We have no worries about starting any of them.”