Before Jimmy Thomas could get comfortable between the posts for Ohio on Saturday night, Delaware had already tallied a goal 24 seconds into the game.
That goal gave the Bobcats their second straight early deficit against the Blue Hens.
Ohio overcame the one-goal deficit quickly in Friday night’s 6-2 win. On Saturday, however, the Bobcats’ offense struggled to find similar success, and as Ohio’s time spent in either a one-goal deficit or tie dragged on, the importance of Thomas’ focus picked up.
The sophomore goalie ended up being the deciding factor in the Bobcats’ 3-1 victory over Delaware to complete the weekend sweep.
“He’s the reason we won,” coach Sean Hogan said. “We could’ve been down 3-0 easily. He found a way for us to make big saves.”
Ohio didn’t tie the game until midway through the second period, and the game remained scoreless until the final 10 minutes, but each sprawling save by Thomas seemed to push the Bobcats closer and closer to breaking the lead.
Thomas wasn’t worried about the fact that any small mistake from him could push No. 3 Ohio closer to being on the wrong end of an upset by an unranked opponent. A loss would’ve given the Bobcats the most abhorrent of feelings heading into the four-week winter break hiatus and likely push Ohio considerably far down the ladder in the American Collegiate Hockey Association rankings.
But Thomas was able to erase any negative mental thoughts that happened after he gave up Delaware’s quick first goal and shut down the Blue Hens for the rest of the night.
“It’s always tough playing against teams that aren’t ranked as high as us,” Thomas said. “But you’ve got to bring the same attention, no matter who you’re playing. Especially when they pop one early, you really got to stay with it.”
It was no easy task for Thomas to shut out Delaware in the game’s final 59 minutes and 36 seconds. The Blue Hens finished with 28 total shots on goal and outshot Ohio 13-9 in the second period.
But perhaps the biggest scare for the Bobcats came just a few minutes after the Blue Hens grabbed the early lead. After several failed Ohio attempts to clear the zone, Delaware nearly caught Thomas out of position, but a great save prevented the Blue Hens from capitalizing on what was essentially an open net.
Except that the save wasn’t made by Thomas.
Six-foot-2 Grant Hazel ducked down in Thomas’ goalie crease and braced himself for the shot that went off his thigh and prevented Delaware from extending its lead.
Thomas chuckled as he remembered Ohio’s only save he didn’t make.
“(Hazel) is one my favorite goalies I’ve ever played with, even though he’s a defenseman,” he joked.
Thomas gave credit to Delaware for making his night a bit more difficult than he would have liked. The Blue Hens managed to find several breakaways and odd-man rushes that would have damaged Ohio had it not been for Thomas’ quick reactions.
By the end of the game, Thomas admittedly felt a little overwhelmed by Delaware’s offensive presence.
“They played super well,” he said. “To put up however many shots they put up on us, a lot of shots, props to them for doing that. It’s tough to do in a place like this, but props to them.”
Thomas and the rest of the Bobcats will enjoy a four-week holiday break until they're pushed back into Central States Collegiate Hockey League division play. Ohio’s next series will be Jan. 6-7 against No. 4 Lindenwood.