Hockey: Games against Kent to feature younger players

Sandwiched between a trip to Pennsylvania to take on NCAA opponent and rival Penn State and hosting the Central States Collegiate Hockey League tournament next weekend, Ohio will take on Kent State at home during the next two days.

To say the Golden Flashes have struggled this season would be an understatement. Ohio’s former CSCHL rival has been outscored by a margin of 216-84 and has mustered only four wins against 27 losses.

Despite Kent State’s struggles and the conference tournament looming in the future, Ohio coach Dan Morris said he’s not worried about his team overlooking the opposition.

“You program (the team) throughout the year that it’s just one week at a time,” he said. “We’re just thinking about Kent State this week. We went over the schedule for the next month and the guys know how to break it down.”

In the teams’ two December meetings, Ohio dominated the Golden Flashes by a combined score of 19-6 during the road series.

That strong play inspired a quiet confidence in the Bobcats that they can replicate what happened in December and continue their momentum in American Collegiate Hockey League play, where they’ve won five straight contests.

“We’re not going to take them lightly,” freshman defenseman Tyler Pecka said. “We had a good series against them last time, but we have to stay strong going into the playoffs and keep our feet under us.”

But with a conference tournament in which Ohio will play three games in three days next week, Morris is using the coming weekend to give more ice time to his younger players and rest those who have been nursing injuries.

Two seasoned Ohio defenders, sophomore Tyler Benson and junior Paul Sergi, will sit out during the weekend, leaving the Bobcats with only five defenders and giving Pecka and fellow freshman defender Derek Rahme more playing time.

“It’s good for (Pecka and Rahme) to get experience,” Morris said. “Both of them are very capable. … They’re getting better every day, so this is their opportunity to keep playing.”

Pecka said he’s looking forward to the additional ice time, knowing that he will have the opportunity to play with the X’s and O’s of his game in a relatively low pressure situation.

“I want to work on a few things,” Pecka said. “Just try to keep my feet moving, maybe see a little bit of power play time and moving the puck a little faster and maybe a little more aggressive.”

Morris will also be giving freshman goalie Aaron Alkema a start on Friday, veering away from his previous strategy of alternating starts between junior Fedor Dushkin and graduate student Matt Michno.

Alkema appeared in this past Friday’s game against Penn State in relief of Michno, when he stopped 10 shots and shut out the Nittany Lions for the final 27 minutes of the game.

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