Now eight weeks into his college career, Austin Heakins has settled into his routine: Wake up at the same times, go to the same classes, eat at the same places and play hockey at the same rink.
But this weekend, Heakins will be one of seven freshmen taking his first road trip as a Bobcat when No. 4 Ohio travels to Bensenville, Illinois to play No. 11 Robert Morris. The teams are scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday and Saturday night.
Though Heakins said he’s been travelling for hockey since he was eight, there is an added wrinkle to trips now that he plays at the collegiate level.
“I’m used to just getting on the road, going to a game and playing junior hockey,” he said. “Now I’ve gotta worry about school.”
On a bus ride that will be at least seven hours, the players have time to study, nap or just hang out. But that’s about it.
“There’s definitely nowhere to go from back and forth between you and the bathroom on the bus,” Heakins said.
The Bobcats left Friday morning around 6 a.m. to guarantee they make it to Illinois with plenty of time before the first game. When they arrive, they’ll have time to stretch out and get a meal before heading to the rink.
Colorado, Ohio’s opponent last weekend, had no down time between its bus ride to Athens and the start of last Friday’s game. The Buffaloes were noticeably lethargic on the ice and took an 8-0 loss.
“I like how we’re handling it,” Heakins said of the early morning travel. “And I’m excited to get out there and have our first away game.”
Ohio coach Sean Hogan is probably more excited for the first road game than any of his players. To him, it means he doesn’t have to worry about typical home game duties.
For the first three weekends of the year, he’s had to focus on ticket lists, will call, making game programs and other game day operations.
“All that stuff, it’s us,” Hogan said. “When you’re away, I can just go to the rink and have a coffee.”
Once the team arrives to Edge Ice Arena and the first puck is dropped on the ice, nothing is different for Ohio — except the ice surface itself.
Bird Arena, the only sheet of ice the Bobcats have played on the past six or seven weeks, is smaller than the NHL-sized sheet used by Robert Morris (IL) and most other teams in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
Hogan admitted that Friday’s first period will require a feeling out process of the new arena, but he sees it as a simple adjustment that the players will not have a problem with.
There is added importance to the Bobcats’ first road weekend because it is also their first weekend facing a divisional opponent.
Every game Ohio plays against a Central States Collegiate Hockey League team, such as the Eagles, counts toward seeding for the end of the year tournament. It’s important and might add a bit of stress, especially to the freshmen who are facing a CSCHL opponent for the first time.
Maybe that’s why Hogan likes showing comedies on the bus ride. His favorite is Semi-Pro.
“Any Will Ferrell movie is okay with me,” Heakins said.