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Austin Heakins (9) drives to the black teams goal in Bird Arena Friday night MATT STARKEY|FOR THE POST

Hockey grades: Bobcats are aces through first half of season

In the second half of their season, in a new year and with the holidays over, the Bobcats find themselves in a familiar position — near the top of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

The Bobcats would-be first games back were canceled due to a carbon monoxide leak at Lindenwood's arena. Eighteen players from Lindenwood's women's team and one player from Wisconsin's team were hospitalized after playing Friday. 

Ohio (17-4-1), the No. 3-ranked team in the 60-team ACHA, has put together a strong start for the umpteenth year. Every team is expected to falter at some point, but the Bobcats have had only a few setbacks in yet another season filled with promise and expectations.

For a third-straight season under coach Sean Hogan, the team entered the winter break in the ACHA’s top ten national rankings. The Post graded Ohio's offense, defense and goaltending from the team's first half of the season.

Offense: A

Ohio’s offense is its most impressive component so far. The Bobcats have dominated puck possession and shot totals in nearly every game, which has led to several lopsided scores in their favor.

Creating chances has been no problem for Ohio, which takes 38 shots on net per game. Scoring hasn’t been much of a challenge either, as the Bobcats have scored 109 goals in their 22 games (4.95 goals per game, sixth in the ACHA). 

With seven of its top 10 scorers from a year ago, Ohio expected offensive success. The surprise is not the success itself, but rather where some of it is coming from.

Two of the Bobcats’ top-three scorers, Gianni Evangelisti and Austin Heakins, are freshmen. Heakins is a winger on the top line while Evangelisti is the third-line center.

Sophomore defenseman Grant Hazel has come out of nowhere to be one of the Bobcats’ most potent offensive weapons. After just nine points in 35 games his freshman year, Hazel leads the team’s blueliners with nine goals and 18 points in 21 games. He also has a team-leading 40 penalty minutes and 10 power play points.

One word sums up Ohio’s offensive attack: depth. Despite scoring in bunches, the Bobcats don’t have any players in the ACHA’s top 50 in scoring. The third-line center leads the team in points, for goodness sake. Clearly no offensive standouts are needed with this group.

Defense: A-

It’s difficult to praise the team’s defense individually, because its success starts in the offensive end. When the Bobcats have the puck, the other team can’t score — and the Bobcats have had the puck a lot.

But the defense deserves its props, too. The shot blocking has been steady in every game, even when the score is out of reach in Ohio’s favor.

Low shot totals have, predictably, led to low goal totals. The Bobcats have allowed just 42 goals this season, a stingy 1.91 goals against per game that ranks second in the ACHA. The penalty kill has also been effective with an 88.24 percent kill rate, which is seventh in the ACHA.

But the defense, which has been suffocating most opponents, has a potential concern.

There are only seven defensemen listed on the 28-man roster (although Tom Pokorney, listed as a forward, can play defense if called upon), which means a couple injuries would take a significant toll on the unit.

If the defensemen can stay healthy, or at least in condition to play, they will continue to be one of the top groups in the league.

Goaltending: A-

With such an impressive goals against average, it’s impossible to give the goalies a bad grade. They’ve stopped most of the pucks sent their way and consistently do enough to give their team a chance to win.

Although the goaltending has no doubt been good, it can certainly improve to greatness. The three goalies — freshman Jimmy Thomas and seniors Aaron Alkema and Ryan Heltion — have a combined 0.893 save percentage. For reference, there are 32 ACHA goalies with at least 10 starts and a save percentage above 0.893.

What hurts the save percentages of Ohio’s goalies is the low shot totals against them. If an opposing team only shoots 15 times on net and two shots go in, the goalie’s 0.867 save percentage isn’t going to look impressive.

Other stats, namely goals against average, show a more positive side of the Bobcat goaltending. Two of the team’s three goalies, Alkema and Thomas, are in the ACHA’s top ten in goals against average with 1.64 and 2.08, respectively. Ryan Heltion’s 0.79 didn’t qualify, because he's only played in three games.

The trio has combined for four shutouts so far and has allowed more than two goals just twice in the past 13 games.

All three are capable of playing and winning. Thomas has started the bulk of the games so far, but his senior counterparts have proven in the past that they can be called on for any opponent. Hogan will have a tough decision to make when the division tournament and national tournament come around.

@JordanHorrobin

jh950614@ohio.edu

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