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Hockey: Bobcats gear up for championship run
For a team that’s found so much success over the past few seasons — not necessarily a common theme for teams in Athens — there’s one major piece missing from the Ohio hockey team’s trophy cabinet from the last several years: a national championship.
Sure, the Bobcats are the defending Central States Collegiate Hockey League Tournament champions, a title they’ve won on seven occasions. And yes, they have won the American Collegiate Hockey Association championship — the governing body of non-varsity college ice hockey in the U.S. — four times in the tournament’s 20-year history, the second most of any school.
But the last time the Bobcats raised that trophy was in 2004, after which has followed plenty of close-but-no-cigars. Each of the past two years, Ohio has made it all the way to the ACHA semifinals before being eliminated, close calls that will be prime bulletin board material for the 2011-12 squad.
The Bobcats will be lead by head coach Dan Morris, entering his 11th season behind the Ohio bench. The four-time CSCHL coach of the year and 2004 ACHA coach of the year is 288-98-31 through 10 seasons and also won three consecutive national championships as a Bobcat defenseman from 1995-97.
Ohio also returns a good portion of a roster that went 29-7-2 last season, including an explosive first line consisting of senior Michael Schultz and juniors Tyler Pilmore (a 3rd team ACHA All-American last season) and Nick Rostex that combined for 56 goals and 161 points last year.
Senior defenseman Zack Barbis also returns to lead a dynamic defensive unit that can both defend and add a bit of secondary scoring.
The one area where the Bobcats will have some fresh blood is the one area where experience may be the most important — between the pipes. Just like last year, the Bobcats head into the season with a major question mark in the net.
Last season, Blake MacNicol, a transfer from the University of Alabama-Huntsville, stepped up and started 32 games, finishing the season with a sterling 1.57 goals against average. Whether or not returnees Bryan Danczak and Fedor Dushkin, two netminders Morris didn’t think were ready for ACHA hockey last season, or perhaps another newcomer can replicate MacNicol’s success will go a long way toward deciding whether the Bobcats are true contenders in 2011-12.
The team opens its season Sept. 24 against the Washington and Jefferson Presidents at Bird Arena in what should be a gimme warm up for a tough October, when Ohio will play 10 straight games on the road. That extended road trip includes excursions to Penn State and Davenport, the team that knocked Ohio off in last year’s national semifinals.
Other key dates on the season include Jan. 6-7, when Ohio hosts Illinois, and Jan. 27-28, when the Nittany Lions come to town in a reincarnation of perhaps one of the best rivalries the ACHA has to offer. Bird Arena will also host the 2012 CSCHL tournament from Feb. 17-19, the first time Athens has held the event since 2007 and a major edge in Ohio’s quest to defend its CSCHL crown.
Of course, before any of this, the Bobcats do have to finalize their roster. The team’s walk-on tryouts begin Sept. 6 at Bird and are open to any full-time Ohio University student.