Coach Sean Hogan addressed his players as they were circled around him at the conclusion of Thursday’s practice.
After grueling early-morning workouts, skating day in and day out, and intense weekend series, Hogan had a simple message for the Bobcats: thank you.
While he praised his team for the effort they’ve put forth all semester, Hogan and the rest of the Bobcats have one final effort to give before the semester’s end.
No. 4 Ohio will play host to No. 10 Illinois, a Central States Collegiate Hockey League rival – and a formidable one at that.
Last year, the Fighting Illini (9-6-3) played spoilers to the Bobcats on three separate occasions. They defeated them on senior night, in the CSCHL tournament that was hosted in Bird Arena, and ultimately knocked the Bobcats out of the American Collegiate Hockey Association national tournament in March.
“They’ve had our number the last three times,” Hogan said. “Last year we were No. 4 and they were No. 5 and it was a battle all year long.”
While the consecutive losses haven’t been addressed, the Bobcats haven’t forgotten the sting from that last loss to Illinois in the national quarterfinal.
Those three losses, however, are in the past, and for good reason. Ohio is a different, more experienced team than a year ago. After it graduated only three seniors from the 2017-18 season, Ohio has used those three losses as fuel.
“We definitely haven’t forgotten about that (the losses), but I think we’re a different team now,” junior forward Tyler Harkins said. “When you lose to a team like that you think about it all offseason.”
To avenge those losses, the Bobcats (11-2-3) will have to rely on their speed. Illinois plays on an Olympic-sized ice back in Champaign, Illinois. Because of the much smaller ice at Bird Arena, the Bobcats have the ability to trap their opponent and hover over them throughout the game.
“They’re a younger team and they’re not really going to know what to do in our barn with smaller ice,” junior defenseman Jake Houston said. “They’re used to playing on their big Olympic sheet so once we get them here we can usually pin them in and make them feel a little claustrophobic and stay on top of them.”
Ohio frequently pairs its speed and small ice as an advantage against visiting teams and offensively, it sets it up well for success. A week ago, Ohio swept Robert Morris-Illinois due in part to its speed. Back by confidence, the Bobcats after a strong week of practice look to carry that momentum into this weekend.
“It feels good,” Harkins said about the sweep. “Our power play operated pretty well, it’s just looking at the little things and how to beat a team in the CSCHL. Anytime you get a sweep over a league opponent, it’s going to give you confidence.”
A confident team is always a prepared team, and Ohio feels prepared for the 7:30 puck drop on Friday night to avenge some lingering wounds.