COLUMBUS — After Ohio’s 4-3 overtime loss to Illinois in the quarterfinals of the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s national tournament Sunday, all 21 of the Bobcats’ dressed players raised their sticks toward the crowd of mostly Ohio fans.
It was Ohio’s final moment on the ice for the 2017-18 season. For 18 of those players, however, it likely won’t be the last time that they’re on the national tournament’s stage — the Bobcats will graduate just three seniors from this season and return 11 current freshmen and sophomores next season.
Ohio’s been one of the most frequently appearing teams in the ACHA Tournament. Each trip has played a role in readying the younger players for increased roles in the following seasons, but Sunday’s loss perhaps dug a deeper cut into the freshmen and sophomores than in years past.
The Bobcats’ newer members were called upon by coach Sean Hogan to quickly grasp increased roles and playing time throughout the season. The Bobcats’ roster, which started the season with 25 players, continuously shrunk amid injuries and personal departures from the team.
Ohio’s talent never appeared to shrink, however, and the Bobcats came just a goal away from solidifying their small team as a top-four team in the ACHA.
The Bobcats’ most important line of forwards was arguably their third and youngest line. Composed of freshman Zach Frank, sophomore Garrett Jenkins and junior Gabe Lampron, the bottom-six line had some of Ohio’s best offensive opportunities throughout the tournament and played a large role in the Bobcats tallying 59 shots in Sunday’s crushing loss.
The line also played a huge role in advancing the Bobcats to Sunday. In Friday’s 3-2 overtime win against UNLV in the tournament’s round of 16, the trio tallied two goals and led the forwards with a +2 plus/minus rating.
“I honestly couldn’t be more proud of my linemates,” Frank said. “I don’t think anyone could really hang with us when we were out there. Just wished a few more things could’ve went our way.”
Frank, who wasn’t necessarily expecting as much playing time as he received throughout the season, believes that last year’s journey to the national tournament helped returning players fill the talent gaps from losing players. He’s hoping that his first experience in the national tournament will help prepare him and his other younger teammates the same way .
“Everyone stepped up in a huge way this year,” Frank said. “It really helped having experience in the lineup this year. I think it was very helpful that they were in that position last year.”
Ohio has a team tradition after it plays its final game: The captains go around the locker room and address each player with a personal message.
Senior team captain Jake Faiella was still dressed in full gear and fought off emotions as he addressed each player after Sunday’s loss. He believes the Bobcats will continue to be a regular appearance in the national tournament, and his message to the younger players after Sunday’s game was simple.
“I’m just telling them how proud I was,” Faiella said. “It was unbelievable what we did. I just tell them how fast it really goes.”