Club hockey earns national rank

Jeff Russ

Despite having a first-year coach and just one senior, the Kent State men’s club hockey team is currently ranked in the top 10 nationally.

The team is currently ranked ninth, and after beating Ohio 3-2 Saturday night, its record is 23-8-1.

The 23 wins are already the most wins ever in the regular season, with six regular season games still left to play.

First-year coach Jarret Whidden came to Kent State with no expectations.

“I was hoping after Christmas I still had a job,” he said.

Players such as junior forward Jason O’Bannon have led the team to the national ranking. O’Bannon currently leads the nation in scoring, with 66 points: 23 goals and 43 assists.

“To see a member of our team on top of not just the league but the nation is a huge testament to how hard he and the line are working,” Whidden said.

O’Bannon is also the team’s best plus-minus player, which means he is scoring more goals then he is giving up defensively.

“He doesn’t get scored on too often. He’s not slacking on the defensive end,” Whidden said.

Sophomore forward Ryan Nawrocki is also putting together a fine season. He currently ranks among the top 15 in scoring and the top five in goals.

“We have team goals and concepts, but it’s good to see our players with these statistics,” Whidden said.

The team is coming off a long road trip of 12 consecutive road games, but Whidden didn’t let his team think about it.

“It was a tough trip playing at good hockey atmospheres,” he said, “We didn’t mentally think of them as road games; it’s still a sheet of ice with six guys on the ice with the same puck.”

But the team is glad to be back at home.

“No bus lag,” Whidden said. “It’s nice to play in front of our fans. There is a great atmosphere at the Ice Arena.”

“But even if we didn’t play another home game for the rest of year we would still be doing the same things.”

As the season winds down, the team is preparing to play in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League playoffs and the American Collegiate Hockey Association national tournament.

The national tournament consists of the top 16 teams nationally. Ranked ninth, the team is almost a lock to play in the national tournament.

Kent State is hosting the national tournament this year at Youngstown State, Feb. 28 through March 4.

The national tournament will look a lot like the league tournament.

Currently, eight teams in the league are in top 20 nationally, including top-five teams Illinois and Ohio.

“Those teams expect to play for a chance to win every year, and we are working hard and playing well, giving ourselves a chance to play at the end,” Whidden said.

Associate coach/ general manager Christian Wilk is also feeling good about the team as post-season play nears.

“We’re playing our best hockey going into the tournament,” Wilk said.

With all but one player returning to next year’s team, Wilk expects good things for the next few postseasons, as well.

“We are not just doing well this year,” Wilk said, “but things look good for next year as well.”

Contact sports correspondent Jeff Russ at [email protected].