Coach Sean Hogan has a good type of problem right now: he has more contributing players than spots for them to fill on game nights.
When the No. 1 Bobcats travel to Ames, Iowa this weekend for a two-game series against No. 8 Iowa State (7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Ames/ISU Ice Arena), Hogan will again be forced to pick from his deep pool of forwards to find 12 or 13 guys who stand out.
“It just makes my decisions hard,” he said. “It’s a battle for our guys.”
Seven of Ohio’s forwards have already reached double-digit points in the first 14 regular season games, including the team’s entire third line of Gianni Evangelisti, Mike Palasics and Tyler Harkins.
The third-liners have excelled, and Hogan is happy with their production, but he’s stuck trying to move them up the lines because of the strong players in front of them.
Playing time is one battle. Production is another.
Freshman forward Pat Hannan suffered with the latter before posting two assists in Saturday’s 8-1 win over University of Michigan-Dearborn. Hogan said he met with Hannan last week before the UM-Dearborn series to figure out what he could do to help.
“I asked him, ‘What do we need to do to get you moving,' ” Hogan said. “Are you playing on the wrong wing? Are you playing the wrong side? Do you not like the system?”
Hogan tried to spark Hannan with some time on the powerplay in the first period Saturday alongside Evangelisti and Patrick Spellacy. Hannan responded with his first point of the season.
“It’s just about showing confidence in your players, too,” Hogan said.
The powerplay opportunity was definitely a confidence boost to Hannan that he was happy to take advantage of. But players can lose confidence just as easily as they gain it, especially on a crowded, talented roster that requires seven scratched players each night.
For most of the Bobcats, particularly the members of the nine-man freshman class, the days of being a star on their respective junior hockey teams are recent enough that a changed role at Ohio can be upsetting.
“When you’re a young guy,” Hogan said, “it’s hard to look at it as a four-year process. They look at it as, ‘Oh my god, I’m not playing Friday. My world’s over.’ ”
Senior defenseman Mike LaFrenier understands the process. He’s a product of it. As a freshman in the 2012-13 season, LaFrenier played in just 10 of 41 games. Now, four years later, LaFrenier is an every-night player and is second in defensemen with eight assists.
And while some freshmen, such as Evangelisti or top-line winger Austin Heakins, have earned steady roles in the lineup, others have to make the most of their limited opportunities. Not everyone has the luxury to walk in as an every night player, LaFrenier said.
“You have to find the mentality to be able to realize that tonight might not be your night,” LaFrenier said. “But tomorrow will be. Just make sure you do everything you can to make sure you get in the lineup the next day.”
Hogan doesn’t expect to shuffle his lines any time soon and he has no reason to. Ohio (12-1-1) is ranked No. 1 for the first time since a one-week stint in mid-October last season.
But he will continue encouraging in his players up and down the lineup and give them chances as he sees fit.
“I haven’t lost confidence in any of our players,” Hogan said. “Because at some point, someone’s going to get hurt and they’re going to have to play.”