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Hockey: Tom Pokorney follows his fathers footsteps playing for Ohio

Freshman defenseman Tom Pokorney is playing for the Ohio hockey team, like his father did more than 30 years ago.

With tryouts looming in September, defenseman Tom Pokorney grew more anxious by the day. With 78 players trying out for the Bobcats, 58 would be cut, and only one defenseman would be kept on the final roster from tryouts.

Looking for reassurance, or even just a pep-talk, he called his dad for some advice. After all, his father had been there before.

Mike Pokorney, a forward for Ohio during the 1981 to 1986 seasons, also had to earn his way onto the team through a tryout.

“When I tried out for the team, I had a former high school teammate of mine on the team,” Mike said. “I went down there, made the team and played five years.”

During Mike's five seasons, he led the team in points in at least two seasons — statistics from the 1984-85 and 1985-86 season are not available — including a whopping 63 points in 24 games in the 1983-84 campaign.

So when “Tommy,” as he is known by his family, called his father about the tryout, Mike knew exactly what to say.

“He was starting to worry that maybe he made a bad decision,” his father said. “I just told him ‘go out there and prove it on the ice.’ ”

Tom went out at the tryout and “earned his spot,” coach Sean Hogan said.

“He wanted to come to Ohio University,” Hogan said. “We didn’t recruit him or anything like that. He came here and was one of the guys that earned it through the tryout process.”

Hogan said Tom’s physical style of play was exactly what the second-year coach was looking for.

“Every time he stepped on the ice, he was physical,” Hogan said. “He would hit a guy. He would finish his checks. He would block shots. He did good defensive things.”

The 6-foot-3 defenseman, a native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, most recently played for the Bay State Breakers, a United States Premier Hockey League team.

Hogan said he has high hopes for the blue-liner and thinks he can develop into a solid defenseman for years to come for Ohio if he can learn the nuisances of a new position.

“His ceiling is really high,” Hogan said. “He has the ability to be a real good player for us for a long time as long as he keeps buying into the process and doing what we teach. Long term, he’s gonna be good for us.”

Growing up, Tom was coached by his father, something Tom remembers fondly — including the 5 a.m. wakeups.

“He was my coach, my inspiration for playing the game,” Tom said. “For the most part, it was always him waking me up to go to practice in the morning, getting me dressed, putting me in the car. It’s all I’ve ever known.”

Tom said his dad didn’t talk much about his playing days at Ohio, but he has a pretty good idea of how he was such a goal-scoring force.

“He was a goal-scorer, so I know he didn’t backcheck,” Tom joked.

Mike would quip back: “Granted, this is now coming from a kid that watches me in a 50-and-over beer league. You’re not gonna get any backchecking at that level.”

The father-son bond, Tom said, is strengthened through hockey.

“He knows I admire him, and the dad he has been for me always as an only child,” Tom said. “Hockey has always been our thing.”

So when Tom called his father to let him know about making the team, it was a special moment for both of them.

“It was probably the best phone call I’ve had in awhile,” Tom said. “I just said, ‘Hey Dad, I made it,’ and he said he was proud of me. It was probably really special for him to hear that, having his son follow in his footsteps.”

“When he called us and said he made the team, he was as happy as he’d been in a long time,” Mike said.

When Mike came down for the weekend set against West Virginia for Alumni Weekend, he was joined by his own former teammates from the '80s and was introduced in front of Bird Arena on a rolled-out red carpet honoring the alumni.

“I thought it was a blast,” Mike said. “I got a good ribbing from those guys about how much better looking my son is than I am, or how much better hands he has than me, better this, better that, so I got a kick out of it.”

Tom would notch an assist in Friday’s game against the Mountaineers, his only point of the season so far, establishing a Pokorney legacy at Ohio in the process.

“The overall college experience, just take in all of it, and enjoy it,” Mike said. “It goes by fast, and 20-30 years ago when you look back it’ll seem like it just flashed by you. And the nice thing about playing hockey, it’s one of the few sports that you can play into your 50s and 60s, and that’s a bond that you really can’t break.”


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