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Ohio forward Tyler Harkins (22) gets tripped up while skating in the offensive zone during the Bobcats hockey game on Saturday, January 11, 2020, at Bird Arena in Athens, Ohio.

Hockey: Ohio readies for strong finish to regular season

The American Collegiate Hockey Association season is starting to wind down, and there are just three weeks left until conference tournaments begin. 

Ohio, however, still has some work to do before the season comes to an end.

At this point in the season, some teams try to add something new to the mix. They try to catch teams off guard with something they haven't seen before. Ohio has taken a different approach. It wants to focus on taking what they are good at and making it stronger.

"I don't think we're necessarily trying to add things we are trying to fine-tune them and get better at them," coach Cole Bell said. "Maybe take the attention off one area and put it on another.”

There is always room for improvement in every aspect of the game. However, the team needs to focus on consistency. Since the beginning of the new year, the Bobcats have been struggling on Friday nights regardless of who the opponent is.

In every season, there is that wall that a team hits where it seems like the season seems to drag on. That may have been a contributing factor to why Ohio was so inconsistent in the middle of the season.

But that trend changed last weekend. 

In their last series against then No. 7 Stony Brook, the Bobcats played to their potential for two complete games. If Ohio can continue to play that way, it can compete with anybody. Penalties and defensive breakdowns — which bit the Bobcats in previous games — were kept to a minimum, and Bell has a plan for Ohio to maintain that trend.

"It's getting down to that time where you keep guys loose, you keep them engaged," Bell said. "We like to have a lot of fun around here and make it fun to show up to the rink. When you do stuff like that, everything else kind of falls into place."

A perfect example of this would be after the team swept Stony Brook over the weekend, Monday's practice was optional. Music blared through the speakers at Bird Arena and the atmosphere was loose and fun.

When it comes to crunch time, a team has to have a great defense if they want to go on a deep tournament run. The defense is something Ohio must continue to work on, and its back-checking ability must stay at a fast-paced level, too.

The Bobcats' main focus is making sure they are not beat down the ice and giving up odd-man rushes, but they have to manage to focus on the defense without giving up a lot of their offensive capabilities.

"You've got to be good in your defensive zone to win games at the end of the year," Bell said. "We've been talking about that, but not just in our defensive zone… be responsible in those areas without sacrificing our offensive skills or ability to create offense and score goals."

Teams pay attention to the rankings throughout the season, but when the end of the season nears, they pay closer attention to how they can get the best ranking possible.

The Bobcats have three series left, and two of them are against ranked opponents. Iowa State and Pittsburgh are the Bobcats' last regular-season chance to prove themselves against a ranked team.

There are only two more rankings to be released this season. Ohio will need to put on a strong showing to finish the regular season and their position in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League tournament if they want to move up.

These final few weeks will determine the difficulty of Ohio’s postseason path. If Ohio can win the majority of its games and move up in the rankings, the easier the path will be. If it struggles and moves down a spot or two, the tournament becomes much tougher.

The Bobcats know they have a tough task to finish off the season and try to move up. They know they have to come in every day and put in the work if they want to go far at the national tournament. They've taken a no-excuses mantra to finish out the season.

"Put in the work and don't make excuses," Bell said. "It doesn't matter what the situation is, how bad the ice is, how bad the bounce was, how bad the travel was or how bad a night's sleep you got to find a way to make an impact."


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