Tyler Harkins is near the end of his best season for the Bobcats.
It’s also his final season.
The senior forward is one of the highest scoring players for Ohio in the past six seasons. Harkins has scored 53 points this season and is within arm’s reach of surpassing Tyler Pilmore’s program-best 58-point senior season in 2012-13.
A high-scoring season isn’t strange to the Rocky River native. Harkins has routinely been in Ohio’s top lines following a 24-point freshman season. He’s always been a reliable asset to the Bobcats offense. He said it all began to click, however, during his sophomore year when he scored 17 goals and earned 24 assists.
“In the end, it all comes down mentally to myself,” Harkins said. “After a couple years, I have the confidence that I’ll go out there and put up those numbers to help the team.”
His skills are notorious around the American Collegiate Hockey Association. Robert Morris-Illinois’ head coach had his players pay special attention to Harkins during the Bobcats and Cyclones’ series. Harkins still earned five total points in four games against the Eagles.
When coach Cole Bell first stepped into the head coaching position, he knew what kind of player Harkins was and how his offensive capabilities could be utilized. Bell saw Harkins as the one who can score a bulk of Ohio’s goals and be a driving force in the offense.
“He’s a great goal scorer and is great at finding dead areas in the ice,” Bell said. “He can get himself open and knows exactly where the puck is going to end up.”
Bell has been trying to help Harkins adjust to a more independent play style to suit his abilities. The primary focus has been helping the senior force turnovers more often and create offensive opportunities. Bell wants to round out Harkins’ game and give him additional threats beyond being just a goal scorer.
These adjustments combined with his innate ability to find openings on the ice cemented Harkins as Ohio’s leading goal scorer.
“I’ve had this opportunity for a couple years,” Harkins said. “I’ve been a top player and expected to produce, so being in that position for consecutive years helps me out. It’s nothing I’m not used to.”
Harkins isn’t the only one at the top. Fellow senior Gianni Evangelisti is ahead of Harkins by two points with 55. Although Evangelisti has more points, the majority of them come from his 38 assists. Harkins’ stats are more balanced with 25 goals and 28 assists. Defenseman Jake Houston has also been one of Ohio’s top scorers with five goals and 31 assists.
Harkins admits there’s a friendly competition between the three to outscore one another. The race to the top has never been explicitly stated, but the forward admits he pushes himself to keep pace with Evangelisti and Houston.
“I don’t think there’s a spoken competition, but we’d all love to finish on top in the end,” Harkins said.
Harkins and his fellow seniors have taken to their roles as leaders for Ohio in earnest. Their biggest responsibility has been to help acclimate the freshmen to college, and many of the underclassmen are now some of Ohio’s most dependable players.
“A lot of the freshmen have made leaps and bounds in learning to play college hockey,” Bell said. “I think a big part of that is due to what Harkins and the others bring to the table. They lead by example and take the guys under their wing.”
Now that his final season is coming to a close, Harkins is beginning to reflect on his time at Ohio. The forward knew he needed to step into a more important role this season. What he didn’t expect was to break 50 points and be one of the highest scoring Bobcats since 2012-13.
“It’s an honor,” Harkins said. “If you had told me freshman year what I thought I was going to do here I wouldn’t have guessed this. It all just comes down to playing with the right guys.”
Ohio’s last road series of the season was its visit to Iowa State. Harkins said it felt strange after coming back to Athens.
It hadn’t sunk in until then that Iowa State was his final regular season road trip with the Bobcats.
“I’ve had unbelievable memories here,” Harkins said. “It’s been a wild ride, and I’m just thankful I’ve been able to be here and do all of this.”