Reilly Moore looks down at his phone and sees a familiar name and face pop up.
On the other end of a FaceTime call is graduated Bobcat forward Michael Harris, who roomed with Moore the previous two years. With texting, phone calls and video chats, old friends and former teammates are never too far away.
“Seniors even from my first year are still talking to us,” Moore said. “Like before our first game (of the season) a couple of them wished us luck and said, ‘We miss you.’”
Like most teams, Ohio leans on its senior class every year to provide leadership, experience and a sense of unity to younger players. Keeping in touch after graduation is just another part of it.
“It’s like a family,” senior defenseman Mike LaFrenier said.
The 2016-17 senior class is the foundation of Ohio’s family. The 10-man bunch spends a good chunk of its waking moments studying, eating and playing together. But with all the promise they bring to a title-hungry program, and with the real world on the horizon, they have plenty left to accomplish as a group.
Nothing puts a smile on Liam Geither’s face faster than watching an unsuspecting teammate get doused with a helmet-full of water or stumble on skates that have clear tape on the blades.
But for Geither, the fifth-year forward and self-proclaimed “grandfather” of the Bobcats, his pranks are just part of what keeps the team in good spirits. On a typical day, any one of the team’s innumerable inside jokes is enough to fill the locker room with laughter.
“Just trying to make everyone laugh around here,” Geither said, who lists roommates and fellow seniors Patrick Spellacy and Matt Hartman as his favorite targets. Geither and Spellacy have known each other since grade school.
It’s impossible to measure the chemistry that will be lost when this year’s senior class departs, but Ohio coach Sean Hogan knows exactly what he’s going to lose statistically.
The losses include five of the Bobcats’ top seven scorers from a season ago and more than 85 percent of the goalie starts the past three seasons. The seniors account for more than a third of the team’s 28-man roster.
If nothing else, Hogan is losing a big group that has spent years bonding and growing stronger physically and mentally.
“Some of them are really young (when they come in) and they grow into men,” Hogan said.
Moore, a senior defenseman who transferred to Ohio after a year at a junior college in New York, appreciates how unified the seniors are. He’s played as far west as Wyoming and as far north as Toronto, but his time as a Bobcat has been something special.
“This is a situation that you really can’t find anywhere else,” he said. “A bunch of our guys have been around the country or out of the country playing hockey, and personally I know for a fact that I’ve never had any sort of camaraderie like this.”
The seniors have played lots of games together, but they don’t leave their chemistry at the rink. They plan movie nights at Fun Barn and save seats when they find a table at Alden Library.
Most of the seniors live together, too. They’ve known each other so long that sometimes a simple look is enough to trigger laughter from an inside joke made long ago.
“We know we’re probably going to go to each others’ weddings and stuff like that out of school,” Moore said.
The real world beckons
Geither shook his head and laughed at the thought of how quick his hockey career and his time at OU are coming to a close.
His freshman duties, such as team laundry and carrying all the sticks, pucks and water bottles to and from the locker room, seemed like yesterday. Now the adult world was coming at him quick.
“Coming up in six months, I’ve gotta start being a real person,” he said, “which kind of sucks now that I think about it.”
When the hockey season ends some time in March, the senior Bobcats will only have a couple months until school ends for them, too. Pressures to graduate, move away and hunt for jobs are already getting in their heads.
Hogan makes a point of talking to seniors about transitioning from college to the next stages of their lives. The first year or two out of college, when the players’ schedules aren’t broken up into semesters and summer breaks, can be really strange, he said.
He also tries to keep them focused on whatever task is in front of them as senior year starts to drag. Hitting the middle of a long season, while taking upper-level classes, makes it easy to become distracted and frustrated.
“When you’re at practice, be at practice,” Hogan tells his seniors. “When you’re at school, be at school.”
Senior winger Patrick Spellacy, who is studying marketing, has considered pursuing professional hockey “if the right opportunity presents itself.” Otherwise, he hopes to land a job with a company in Cleveland where he interned this past summer.
Geither, who’s studying management information systems, said he’s currently waiting to hear back from a couple of companies about jobs. He said the job hunt is “a big worry,” but he knows that he and his teammates have futures outside of hockey.
Entering the real world is something all the seniors are thinking about; it’s as exciting as it is stressful.
“I think all the guys are excited for their next step,” Moore said. “Everybody has an idea of what they want to do next.”
Leaving their mark
Regular season dominance is expected at Ohio. For more than 30 years, the Bobcats have finished with a top-ten ranking in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
Postseason success — both in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League tournament and in the ACHA national tournament — has been less of a guarantee, especially for this year’s senior class.
Only Geither and fifth-year goalie Aaron Alkema, both redshirt freshmen at the time, were on the roster for Ohio’s 2013 CSCHL tournament championship. Since then, the Bobcats’ current senior class has been runner-up in the division tournament three straight years.
“That’s probably not good enough for Ohio Hockey,” said Hogan, who is in his third year coaching.
Their showings in the ACHA national tournament have been worse: two first-round losses and a second-round loss.
The expectation to be better in this final season isn’t necessarily spoken among the seniors, LaFrenier said. But it’s there and it’s not going away. Especially after last year’s early exit in the national tournament on yet another promising team.
“It stung this entire summer,” Moore said. “It’s been in the back of my mind. We’re all thinking about it and we all want to go out with a bang.”
Going out with a bang would mean winning a championship in the CSCHL, if not the ACHA. It’s a tall order, but for a seasoned group that has accomplished so much in regular season play, championships are all that escape them.
“As seniors, we want to leave a lasting legacy,” Spellacy said. “You see all the banners up here. We want to see one that we can be proud of too.”