The bench may be thinner and the lines may be different for Ohio this weekend, but the team still expects the same results.
While coach Sean Hogan and four players are away at the World University Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the No. 3 Bobcats will host Pittsburgh at Bird Arena on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
“Obviously missing those guys is a big loss,” senior forward Patrick Spellacy said. “But we have a deep team. So we can kind of pick up where we left off a couple (of) weeks ago (against Rutgers).”
With Hogan gone, assistant coaches Nathan De La Torre and J.J. Crew have worked together to run practice for the last week and a half. This weekend, they’ll take the reins as co-head coaches for the only time this season.
“I think we’re just trying to attack it together and both try and be on the same page as far as practice and games this weekend,” De La Torre said.
All season long, De La Torre has focused on working with the forwards, while Crew has worked primarily with the defensemen, so those roles will not change.
Now that the two are responsible for leading practices, they’re choosing to mix up some of the drills. They run some drills that Hogan uses regularly, while also incorporating some of their own choices, including flow drills that keep the guys moving constantly, De La Torre said.
Neither coach is worried about a potential conflict of authority because they both want to focus on hard work and high competitiveness, which Hogan addresses all the time.
“(De La Torre) has those leadership qualities, and whether it’s him or myself, we’re going to feed off each other and we’re going to preach the same thing,” Crew said.
The new lines will be fine
The last time Gianni Evangelisti replaced Matt Hartman on the top line, it went pretty well.
When Hartman missed two games in October against Robert Morris (Illinois) with a broken finger, Evangelisti took his center position between Spellacy and Austin Heakins. The trio combined for two goals and nine assists that weekend.
Hartman is away with Team USA, which gives Evangelisti another chance on the top line. With Joey Breslin, Matt Rudin and Mike LaFrenier also away overseas, the Bobcats’ line groupings are set for some serious alterations.
As of Wednesday’s practice, which Crew said was likely to reflect the weekend’s lineup, Liam Geither (who usually plays with Rudin and Breslin) is slated to play with Garrett Jenkins and Bryan Lubin.
Cody Black will likely replace Evangelisti on the team’s third line.
The new lines shouldn’t be much of an issue for Ohio. This team has proven it can score up and down the lineup, as evidenced by its 14 players with double-digit points.
Still, the open roster spots left behind by the players in Kazakhstan provide a chance for some players to skate more, and perhaps to score more.
“It gives guys some opportunities to step up and fill in some roles that maybe they didn’t have at the beginning of the season,” De La Torre said.
Two years ago, when Hogan and three players left for the 2015 World University Games in Spain, they left a shorthanded Ohio team in a vulnerable position — facing three highly ranked teams in back-to-back-to-back weekends.
The result: just one win in six games.
So it’s no coincidence this year that Hogan adjusted his schedule to play out favorably around the World University Games, which predictably plucked him and a handful of his best players.
There’s no shame in the strategy. It even works out that Team USA flies into Chicago on Feb. 9, so Hogan and the four players can meet the Bobcats for their road series at Illinois the next day.
“We kind of lucked out having Ice Ghosts last weekend and Pittsburgh this weekend,” Spellacy said. “It might’ve been on purpose.”