Rusty Scurto was excited when he heard that his cousin Scott Bagby was going to Ohio to play hockey.
Scurto played for Ohio from 2000-2004 and was part of the American Collegiate Hockey Association national champion team in 2004. He also played in the 2003 national championship game, when the Bobcats lost to Penn State.
“He was pumped,” Bagby said with a little more emphasis than usual in his typically laid-back voice.
Scurto loves coming back to Athens, and he always tries to make it back for alumni weekend. Now, Scurto gets to see family play when he’s back at Ohio.
“I’m excited to go down and watch with his family and go show everyone around and explain what hockey and Ohio means,” Scurto said.
Bagby’s commitment to Ohio carried on what could be a family tradition of playing hockey in Athens.
“It’s an honor that it’s a tradition in our family that’s carrying on, so many years later,” Scurto said. “I’m proud to see him on that ice and I’m proud to see him in that uniform.”
As big of a supporter as Scurto is, he was not a part of Bagby’s recruiting process.
Instead, Bagby had heard of Ohio's program from both Scurto and his coach for Team Illinois U16, Chris Carlson, who both played and coached for the Bobcats. Bagby had heard of the school from both of them, but neither of them tried to persuade him.
And neither of them even knew coach Sean Hogan was recruiting Bagby. Hogan knew Scurto because of his trips back to Athens for alumni weekends, but he didn't know of the familial relationship between Scurto and Bagby.
“I’ve talked to Rusty several times, but not about Scott,” Hogan said. “We didn’t know they were cousins until some of the recruiting started.”
Hogan knows the hockey community is a small one, one that is close-knit. He also knows there is a network of Bobcats that is always willing to help out. He also knows one of the biggest aspects of recruiting — especially in club hockey — is the experience of the players, both current and past.
People talk. And when Bobcats talk about their good experiences in Athens — which most do, Hogan said — Ohio finds better success in recruiting.
“We have a much higher success rate if a player we’re recruiting knows someone here or someone who’s been here,” Hogan said.
Bagby had reached out to a few players on the team. He liked what he heard from them, and he liked the atmosphere on his visit.
He was choosing between an ACHA school, such as Ohio, and NCAA Division III schools, which are a lot smaller. He went with the bigger school with a better atmosphere. It did not hurt that the environment of Bird Arena is similar to one Bagby played in during junior hockey: a loud, small arena that sells out.
“I wanted to go to a bigger school, and that’s their pitch here,” Bagby said. “It’s a bigger school, a good atmosphere, and it’s fun to go here.”
Bagby is at the beginning of his four years in Athens, sitting where his cousin was 18 years ago. Scurto sees a lot in this year’s team that is similar to his Bobcat teams, especially the one that won a national championship.
He sees a young team that matured last season and has a strong chance to push itself over the top, just like Scurto’s team that lost the national championship in 2003 on home ice.
But the question really should be: Can the former national champion Scurto still take on his younger cousin?
“I think if I took the body to him, I think I’d win,” Scurto said, laughing over the phone. “Other than that, I think he’d take me right now.”