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Ohio forward Tom Whetsel evades a University of Illinois defender at Bird Arena, Athens, Ohio, on January 7, 2012. The Bobcats improved their record to 20-7-0 with a 5-1 win over the Fighting Illini.

Harris scores two goals as Ohio’s record moves to 9-2-1

Harris scores two goals as Ohio’s record moves to 9-2-1

 

A pair of highly-ranked teams went head-to-head this weekend, as No. 5 Ohio took on No. 11 Illinois on the largest American Collegiate Hockey Association ice surface in the country.

The results ran fairly well with what one would expect from two closely matched teams, as each side found themselves victorious in close contests.

In Friday’s game, Illinois overcame a staggering shot disadvantage to defeat Ohio 2-1. In Saturday’s game, Ohio fought off an early third period rally by the Illini and walked away with a 4-2 win.

Illinois (9-2-0) began the scoring Friday in the first period, when a player re-entering the ice from the penalty box quickly gained possession of the puck and got it past Ohio goalie Aaron Alkema to give the Illini an early lead.

Midway through the second, Ohio forward Michael Harris scored on a power play to tie the game. That score held until five minutes into the third, when Illinois scored what would end up being the game-deciding goal.

Ohio’s second loss of the season looked much like their first three weeks ago in West Virginia. The Bobcats (9-2-1) dominated play throughout most of the game, but its failure to capitalize on opportunities was its undoing. Ohio outshot the Illini 44-12.

“We just looked slow and tired,” coach Sean Hogan said. “We got a ton of chances to score early, and when we didn’t, I knew it was going to be tough. I think on a normal ice surface, we might have a better chance of shutting them down a little bit more, but we adjusted well to the wider dimensions.”

The first period play was the difference Saturday for the Bobcats, who instead of falling behind early, jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Tyler Benson got Ohio on the board first, before Harris came through for the second-straight evening with a tight shot to help the Bobcats to a strong start.

“We were a lot more fired up to play on Saturday,” Harris said. “We took Friday’s loss to heart, and we physically outplayed them until they didn’t want any piece of us. One of their face-off guys told (Matthew) Hartman that we were the most hostile team they’d ever faced.”

Illinois began to slowly come back, shutting down Ohio’s scoring and cutting the lead in half less than five minutes into the second period. The Illini then tied the game in the beginning of the third.

That tie was short-lived, however, as Nathan De La Torre came through with a goal just 48 seconds later, helping the Bobcats regain a 3-2 lead. Harris then scored his second goal of the night and third of the weekend to put the Bobcats ahead for good, 4-2.

Ohio’s road trip continues with a 12-hour bus ride to Iowa State next weekend, where the Bobcats will continue searching for ways to try to bridge the gap between their dominant home performances and their slower road performances.

“We’ve played well defensively on the road, we just haven’t seen much production from our offense,” Hogan said. “We’re a blue-collar team. When we’re not outworking and out-willing our opponents, we’re not generating those opportunities on offense. We just need to find a way to maintain some consistent effort on the road.”

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