The Bobcats showed no signs of missing their head coach and four of their best players this weekend.
Not on the scoreboard, at least.
No. 3 Ohio handled unranked Pitt with ease and won 9-0 on Friday and 8-4 on Saturday at Bird Arena. Abundant scoring, the season’s biggest fight and a large Sibs Weekend crowds highlighted the series despite a shortened Ohio roster during the World University Games.
The play was innocent at first.
Bryan Lubin scored Ohio’s fifth goal Saturday to cushion the Bobcat lead further. Then he was knocked down and the fight was on.
Everybody grabbed or tackled somebody else, including Pitt goalie Ben Cirba, who gave the Panthers a man advantage until Ohio goalie Ryan Heltion skated the length of the ice to get in the action.
The goalies had the weirdest exchange of the fight. Heltion held Cirba by the jersey as Cirba rose to his feet. The two stood for a second, appearing civil, before Cirba whacked Heltion in the helmet with his blocker and knocked Heltion backward onto the ice.
About 25 seconds of pushing, punching, wrestling and shoving went by before the referees could break it up. The standing room crowd had plenty of fun watching and roared its approval.
— Matthew Summers (@M_Summers17) February 5, 2017
“I felt like their guy instigated the whole thing with the hit on Lubin,” assistant coach Nathan De La Torre said. “Obviously we tell our guys to protect themselves, protect their teammates, so once that whole skirmish starts there’s nothing you can really do about it.”
Big weekend for Black
Several minutes after Friday’s win, Cody Black was still on the ice chatting with a few of his friends from Pitt.
“I know about 90 percent of them (the Pitt players),” said Black, a Pittsburgh native who played against many of Pitt’s players in high school.
Aside from catching up with old friends, Black had plenty to smile about with the way he played. The sophomore forward netted four goals — twice as many as he had entering the weekend — and had an assist.
Black, who scored on Ohio’s top line last weekend against Rutgers as a replacement for the injured Austin Heakins, has bounced around with different line mates recently.
He said it’s difficult to adjust game-to-game because everyone “plays at a different pace,” but he’s enjoying the opportunities to put up points. Black also praised the team’s depth, which was proven when eight different players scored for Ohio on Friday.
“It shows it doesn’t matter,” Black said. “Everybody can fill anybody’s spot.”
Ohio lost a total of eight players at some point during the games this past weekend.
On Friday, leading scorer Gianni Evangelisti left the game with a knee injury in the first period. In the second, defenseman Tom Evans was slew-footed, meaning he was upended from behind by another player’s skate, which is against the rules, and injured his left knee.
De La Torre said Saturday that x-rays for both players showed no signs of any broken bones, but that further testing — via MRI scans Monday or Tuesday — was needed to determine the severity of the injuries.
Evans was in crutches after Friday’s game, and De La Torre said Evans has a more serious injury than Evangelisti.
On Saturday, the six Ohio players in the line brawl were ejected for fighting and, per league rules, will not be available to play in the team’s next game: Friday at No. 15 Illinois.
Heltion, forwards Tyler Harkins, Gabe Lampron and Lubin along with defensemen Tom Pokorney and Reilly Moore will have to sit out against the Fighting Illini. If Evangelisti and Evans are added to that list, Ohio will be down to 18 skaters and just five defensemen.
No matter what, the Bobcats will need to shake up their lines — and possibly their positions.
“Next weekend’s pretty important for us going to Illinois,” De La Torre said. “We have to get that figured out.”