There were only two programs that Ryan Higgins wanted to visit during his recruitment process.
The two perennial national championship contenders, Ohio and Lindenwood, were the only two schools Higgins had interest in. Both are members of the American Collegiate Hockey Association, and the two programs have a combined seven national championships, countless league titles, and impressive records year in and year out.
With such standout résumés for a wide-eyed recruit to examine, deciding which program to join could’ve been one of the most difficult decisions for anyone to make.
But for Higgins, the decision was all too easy.
“In one week after my first visit to OU, I knew this was the place I needed to be,” he said.
The Hamilton native said it was an easy sell for multiple reasons.
“It’s a legit program,” he said. “They finished fifth (in the country) last year, and I think we have a good shot (this season) with only four freshmen and everyone else returning.”
Aside from being “legit,” as Higgins puts it, the at-home feel and location of Bird Arena further sold Higgins to commit to Ohio.
Above all, it was the hockey family he was leaving behind and the one he was joining.
For the past three seasons, at least one player has joined the Bobcats after having played a season with the U18 Ohio Blue Jackets. In total, there are five players from the Blue Jackets who are now Bobcats.
Higgins already feels comfortable with a few teammates and is able to relate to them, despite not even having shared the ice at Bird yet.
Kyle Craddick, a sophomore forward for the Bobcats, used to play for the Blue Jackets. He had never spoken to Higgins before the commitment, but Craddick knew he would be a significant addition to the roster.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about him,” Craddick said via text message. “Columbus does an outstanding job developing (and) advancing their guys on. I’m glad he chose here.”
Right away after his commitment to Ohio, Higgins said his phone nearly erupted with phone calls and text messages from Bobcats that once played for the same team he did.
With such a warm welcome wagon and comfortability, the expectations are high for Higgins. Former U18 players Craddick, Gianni Evangelisti and Timmy Thurnau combined for 80 points last season, and Jimmy Thomas was one of the ACHA’s premier goalies after he posted a 25-9 record with a .920 save percentage.
Clearly, the standards Higgins’ predecessors have laid out in front of him are huge, but it’s nothing he is worried about.
“I feel excited (about the opportunity),” Higgins said. “I don’t necessarily feel any pressure. It’s more relaxed because I know I’m following their path.”
Higgins’ on-ice performance will take care of itself as he progresses through both the ranks at Ohio and in the ACHA. The 5-foot-9-inch, 165-pound freshman is eerily similar in size to some of Ohio’s best forwards, proof that bigger doesn’t mean better. A quick skater with a strong two-way game, Higgins has the potential to follow the routes of similar players senior Cody Black and junior Tyler Harkins.
In time, Higgins will earn his ice time, score goals and tally assists. All he’s worried about now is just taking it one day at a time, starting with the team’s first official practice Sept. 13.
“I’m just ready to get on the ice,” he said. “It was good to get my feet underneath me with school and everything, but now I’m ready to get on the ice and get the season going.”