Transfer goaltender fills big skates

It’s no short order replacing a legend and for Ohio hockey, Paul Marshall is as close as it comes. The former goaltender who graduated last spring owns virtually all Bobcats’ records in net — wins, shutouts, saves, goals against average. The list goes on.

There was an air of uncertainty surrounding the hockey program after Marshall’s departure. Head coach Dan Morris had recruited a pair of back-stoppers in Bryan Danczak and Fedor Dushkin, but said he questioned whether either was ready for the grueling American Collegiate Hockey Association schedule.

Meanwhile in Huntsville, Ala. Blake MacNicol had a decision to make. The Milan, Ohio-native and University of Alabama – Huntsville netminder  had missed virtually his entire senior-year season after breaking his hand, and his team was in the midst of changes.

The Chargers — the only NCAA Division I hockey team below the Mason-Dixon line — had enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in school history, which included  a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four tournament. But with head coach Danton Cole resigning to take up a position with USA hockey, and a pair strong incoming goaltenders, his future with the program was no longer assured.

“I would’ve had to petition (to play) another year,” MacNicol said. “If that didn’t work out I would’ve been stuck there without hockey.”

MacNicol didn’t want to risk the latter so he decided a change in scenery was in order

The MacNicol family has a history at Ohio University. His father Alex played on the OU hockey team in the late 60s and early 70s, back when it was a NCAA varsity program. It’s where he met his wife Sharon and where they had sent Blake’s older brother Sean.

MacNicol’s father has remained close to the hockey program since his playing days, and once the decision was made to leave UAH, he was on the phone with Morris.

“(MacNicol) wanted to transfer here and we didn’t have any goalies left,” Morris said.”It’s worked out for both parties. We’re happy that Blake’s here and I think he’s happy he’s here.

“We wanted some senior leadership — somebody who’d been through it — to help the young goalies out and give them some confidence before we put them in the war zone.”

The transition was far from seamless, however. The Bobcats opened up the ACHA season 1-2-1 and although the team as a whole struggled, it was clear that MacNicol was not up to par.

“He played 37 minutes last year before his injury and you could tell right away (this season that) he hadn’t played much,” Morris said. “It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you’re just not out their playing — getting pucks to you — it’s going to take awhile.”

But after the disappointing start, Ohio has been one of the most dominant teams in the nation. The ‘Cats carried an 11-game winning streak into their winter break and have been unbeaten in regulation since Oct. 22, and MacNicol has been at the heart of it all.

“It was a big adjustment because I hadn’t played many games in a year and a half or two years once I got injured,” MacNicol said. “It always helps once guys get to know each other better and you get to know the freshman better. You start clicking as a team and that was a big thing.”

Despite the impressive turnaround, which has seen the Bobcats rise to No. 4 in the nation in the latest ACHA rankings, MacNicol said that he and the team have yet to reach their peak potential.

“We’ve got a long way to go. We’re not where we need to be at,” he said. “It was nice to get those wins, but once you’re playing some tougher competition, that’s when we’ll see.”

MacNicol said he knows he is filling some pretty big skates, but he doesn’t dwell on that. He has more important things in mind.

“As long as we win, that’s all that matters,” he said. “Winning a national championship — that’s our goal.”

Marshall may have all the records, but if MacNicol can bring a championship to Athens — something Marshall never could — he’ll be a legend in his own right.

(This story was originally published in The Post)

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