Coach Sean Hogan didn't offer a preference nor a prediction toward which team Ohio will play in its first 2018 American Collegiate Hockey Association national tournament game.
The Bobcats will play the winner of Thursday's game between the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Drexel University on Friday at 1 p.m. in the OhioHealth Ice Haus in Columbus.
"I try not to get carried away," Hogan said. "Whoever is put in front of us is who we're going to beat."
The fourth-year coach didn't offer much about which team he'd like to see on Friday, but the question doesn't have as clear of an answer as it may appear just by looking at the rankings of the two teams — UNLV is the No. 13 seed. Drexel is No. 20 seed.
As the last seed in the 20-team tournament, Drexel seems like No. 4 Ohio's obvious preference for it's Friday opponent. But if the Dragons, who clinched a tournament berth after winning the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Championship, bounce UNLV on Thursday, they'll face Ohio with a five-game win streak and feel additional momentum to do more damage as the tournament's biggest underdog.
Ohio didn't play Drexel in the regular season and wouldn't have quite as much knowledge of the Dragons as it would with the Rebels, whom the Bobcats played and swept at Bird Arena in October.
The Bobcats defeated the Rebels by a combined 10-2 score in the two-game series. Even though the series was over four months ago, Hogan still believes it benefits Ohio's knowledge of UNLV should a rendezvous occur on Friday.
"It helps us a ton because we know what to expect," Hogan said. "It's not someone we've never played before, so that always helps."
Senior and team captain Jake Faiella said he's expecting to play UNLV on Friday. The defenseman admitted that he didn't know how Drexel performed in the regular season and hasn't put much thought toward who may win Thursday's contest, but he didn't hesitate in picking the Rebels as his preferred Friday opponent because of the Bobcats' higher familiarity with them.
"If you're looking at it that way, definitely UNLV," Faiella said. "I think we played pretty good against them."
Here's a deeper look at who Ohio may play on Friday.
The Rebels made their presence known in their first season in the Division I of the ACHA.
UNLV has spent the majority of the 2018 season in the middle of the national rankings and beat Minot State 2-1 in November — the Beavers have lost just three total games in 2017-18 and own the No. 1 seed in the national tournament.
The Rebels nearly completed the two-game series sweep against the Beavers with a 5-4 loss the next day.
Hogan complimented the Rebels' approach to the previous offseason, which UNLV spent garnering solid recruits to build its roster as a Division II program a year ago into a formidable Division I team.
Because of the solid recruits UNLV received, Hogan wasn't surprised to see the Rebels finish the regular season at a decent position in the national rankings.
"They did awesome," Hogan said. "Since their Division II days, over 50 percent of the team is new this year. I remember through the summer, looking at the guys they were recruiting, that they were going to be pretty good."
Hogan's team could now be tasked with ending UNLV's impressive first season if the Rebels win on Thursday.
UNLV similar opponents with Ohio:
Iowa State — UNLV went 1-1 against the Cyclones, Ohio went 2-2.
Jamestown — UNLV went 1-2 against the Jimmies, Ohio went 0-2.
The Dragons didn't finish the regular season inside the top 20 ranked teams in the ACHA to finish the 2017-18 regular season, but they clinched their trip to Columbus when they defeated Villanova 3-2 in overtime to win the ECHA playoffs.
The title gave Drexel an automatic tournament berth and the last seed of participating teams.
The Dragons may not appear to have much of a chance against the Rebels on Thursday, but Hogan still expects the game to be close.
Hogan's reasoning wasn't from in-depth research or knowledge based on his own scouting of the programs, which he has yet to complete for Drexel (he said he's doing it on Wednesday,) rather it was because of how the first games of the national playoffs usually transpire.
"I never want to say 'that's what I expect,' but I will say I would expect that Drexel-UNLV game to be closer than people think. It always is," he said.
Hogan's hypothesis stemmed largely from what he remembers about last year's opening game between No. 14 Oklahoma and No. 19 Pittsburgh, which also determined Ohio's first opponent in the 2017 national tournament.
Oklahoma appeared to be the favorite, but only squeaked by Pitt 3-2 in overtime. The Bobcats dominated the Sooners 13-1 the next day.
Many of the Bobcats plan to be in attendance for Drexel's opening game on Thursday at the OhioHealth Ice Haus, where they'll look to scout Drexel in the event that the Dragons pull off the upset.
Drexel's similar opponents with Ohio:
Navy — Drexel went 1-1 against the Midshipmen, Ohio went 2-0.
John Carroll — Drexel went 0-2 against the Blue Streaks, Ohio went 2-0.
Delaware — Drexel went 2-0 against the Blue Hens, Ohio went 2-0.
Pitt — Drexel went 0-2 against the Panthers, Ohio went 2-0.