LYNCHBURG, Va. — The lobby of the Laquinta Inn in this sprawling college town was packed with the Bobcats on Saturday morning as three senior members of the Ohio University hockey team reminisced not only about their current season, but their collegiate careers as well .
And while this weekend may be full of tears for seniors, the mood was upbeat, jubilant, and celebratory on that unusually warm February morning east of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
As the team geared up for the final road game of the season against Liberty University, its members had another reason to celebrate.
It was senior Ryan Hastings’ 22nd birthday, and they gathered in the lobby to eat cookies and brownies to honor the future OU defender.
The meeting also provided the perfect backdrop for Hastings and two other UO seniors to recall how they arrived in Athens and what the future holds for them after receiving their diplomas in May.
For several members of the Bobcats hockey team, it will take four years, but it will also be bittersweet to say the least.
While this weekend will be filled with the energy that comes with the final home grandstand of the regular season for the Bobcats hockey team, it will also be filled with a mixed bag of emotions for many of the players.
The senior class of the Ohio University team will take to home ice at Bird Arena for the last time this weekend in the OU series with the Niagara University Purple Eagles.
The trio profiled in this feature have major accomplishments they’ve made to the team over the past four years and also various interests they hope to pursue off the ice once their playing days are done.
For Higgins, Ryan Leonard and Zach Curry, the future looks very bright for them career-wise, but their immediate goal is not only to win the series against Niagara, but also to achieve another ambitious goal that all three believe is within reach. team reach.
That would mean bringing the American Collegiate Hockey Association Men’s D1 Championship banner back to Athens next March.
As part of seniors weekend, all OU high-ups will be honored on the ice before the discus toss at Saturday’s game.
And this is where the bittersweet comes in.
“It will definitely be bittersweet,” Curry told The Athens Messenger.
Leonard also readily admitted that “I might shed a couple of tears.”
“It’s going to be exciting and it’s definitely going to be bittersweet,” Hastings said. “He’s crazy how fast he’s gone.”
Adding to the speed of their four years at OU was the fact that this team, like so many sports teams, was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic which, while it devastated part of their playing career, hasn’t dampened the their enthusiasm for the experience everyone has had during their college career.
“We got screwed over because of COVID,” Leonard readily admitted and the other two agreed, but there were still plenty of highlights from their four seasons that in some ways outweigh the impact the pandemic has had on their careers collective.
“There was a lot less energy,” Hastings explained about the lack of fans at home games during the height of the pandemic, and of course the cardboard cutouts of fans weren’t “as active as people,” he joked.
Leonard and Curry agreed, but all three tried to make the best of it and bond with their teammates and continue to contribute to what has been a stacked Bobcats roster.
With so many talented players on the roster, the trio has learned to accept that they may not be frontline, but they are a big part of the overall team’s success.
“You kind of know your role” and you deal with it, Hastings said.
One thing that none of the team lacks is a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie which is especially evident when speaking to the senior trio.
“Road trips are a lot of fun,” Leonard said, with Hastings adding, “It brings all the guys together.”
And these three have been together enough to quickly rattle off one-word answers when asked to describe each other.
“Energetic,” Curry said of his other two teammates.
“A hard worker,” Leonard said.
And “busy,” Hastings added when answering the question.
As committed as the three are to the game, they are all equally devoted to their professional lives once they graduate from OU.
Curry, a native of Olathe, KS, will return to his roots and put to good use the sports coaching and sports management degree he will receive from OU and coach the high school team he once played for.
Additionally, he will be working at a hockey training facility in his hometown where he can mentor and inspire others who want to follow a similar collegiate playing path.
“It’s very grassroots, it’s growing,” Curry said when asked how big hockey is in Kansas.
For Leonard, or Lenny as his teammates call him, he’ll be using the marketing and business analytics degree he’s been receiving early on, as he’s already been offered a sales position in Cleveland.
As for Hastings, her career intent took a slight detour almost immediately after enrolling in the nursing program.
Approximately 10 days in nursing program studies. “Our bio lab took us to the cadaver lab and told us to play the game and I knew right away it wasn’t for me,” Hastings joked.
Instead, she has chosen to pursue a degree in graphic design and will take a full-time position at a supplement company in Pittsburgh, just outside of her hometown of Apollo, PA.
But for now, Hastings and Leonard aren’t worrying about their professional careers. Rather, they emphatically agree with Curry that “we’re focused on this season.”
That would include not only sweeping Niagara this weekend, but also winning the Nationals next month.
All three feel that it is not only a tangible but also a realistic goal.
They all agreed this team is a contender and it would be exciting to ride into the sunset of their senior season with a championship ring.
And currently ranked fourth in the country, their dreams could come true.
So while the home careers of all these OU seniors come to an end this weekend there is still plenty of hockey to play and they all feel this team has a decidedly strong chance of bringing back a National Championship banner to be hoisted above the rafters of the Bird Arena after the ACHA tournament concludes next month in Massachusetts.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE THE NIAGARA SERIES
After huge weekend streak with Liberty, OU hockey team looking to avoid letting their guard down against Niagara this Friday & Saturday 7pm
OU head coach Lionel Mauron explained the challenges this series brings to his side:
“Niagara is very fast and offensive; they have a lot of young players who have brought a new energy to their program. They are one of the top 15 teams in the country and it will be a very difficult series” Mauron said.
The coach hopes to see the Bird Arena filled as the puck falls on the final home stand of the 2022-23 season.
“Hope to see everyone at the games this weekend! Our seniors deserve their last two games at the Bird to be special! I know our team will do everything possible to leave on a positive note.