At the half-way point, the Bobcats are 17-4-1 and in the top ten of the American Collegiate Hockey Association rankings at the winter break for the third straight season, currently ranked No. 3.
With a team that has only lost •five games and has played very well to date, it’s not easy picking out three players to award the three stars of the first half, but •The Post did its best to pick from one of the top teams in the country.
Third Star - Grant Hazel
After having just nine points over 35 games last season, the sophomore defenseman gives Ohio a pleasantly surprising boost in its offense during the first half of that campaign. Hazel is fifth on the team in points, with nine goals in 21 games to go along with nine assists.
He is tied with Jake Houston as the highest scoring defensemen for the Bobcats and provides a physical presence on the other end of the ice as well as between the blue lines, leading the team in time in the penalty box.
Much of Ohio’s success has come from passes that start with the defensemen, and Hazel has been very effective at generating the offense. Hazel also has provided the Bobcats with his powerful shot from the point from time to time.
When there is traffic in front of the net, there is not much opposing goaltenders have been able to do with the speed of the puck off Hazel’s stick. Hazel’s newfound scoring ability could play a huge factor in what the Bobcats want to accomplish toward the end of the season.
Second Star - Goaltenders (Aaron Alkema, Jimmy Thomas, Ryan Heltion)
Not that goaltending was a concern at the start of the season, but it definitely hasn’t been one through the midway point. The trio of Thomas, Alkema and Heltion have been very reliable for coach Sean Hogan. Alkema is 5-0 and has an average of just 1.64 goals per game. Heltion has a losing record; he’s 1-2 in his three games, but has the lowest goals allowed average at 0.79.
Thomas has been the primary goaltender this season, appearing in 14 games. He is 11-2, good for second in the ACHA Division One, just halfway through his freshman season. He currently boasts a 2.08 GAA.
Goaltending has been stellar for the Bobcats up to winter break. Although Ohio can score goals in large sums, the deciding factor in how far the team can go will likely come down to goaltending. If the goaltenders can continue to play well down the stretch, a deep tournament run could happen.
Hogan will likely roll with just one goalie in the postseason tournaments and the two likely candidates seem to be Alkema and Thomas. Look for either one of those two to try and separate themselves in the second half of the season.
First Star - Gianni Evangelisti
It is tough to find a third-line center in the ACHA that has had a bigger impact for his team than Evangelisti. The freshman from Dublin leads the team with 24 points through 22 games and has been the centerpiece of a third line that has given the team some much needed scoring depth.
He is tied for third on the team with 10 goals and tied for second with 14 assists. The scoring depth, that sometimes plagued the Bobcats last season, has been developed into a strong suit for Ohio. The production of his line has even earned it some time on the power play. He has four power play assists in his ice time.
With Evangelisti and his line receiving ice time on the power play and scoring more, the Bobcats have solidified themselves as a contender for the ACHA National Championship. If the top two scoring lines get shut down, Evangelisti’s scoring could get Ohio into position to capture that championship.