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Ohio forward Matthew Hartman (#16) attempts to score on Oklahoma goalie Colin Fernandes (#1) during the Ohio vs Oklahoma game on February 6, 2015. 

Ohio finishes as regular season CSCHL champions

Bobcats clinch league title with series split against Illinois in final weekend of regular season.

One could be forgiven for not expecting a good portion of Ohio’s offensive revival to come from its only two players who entered the weekend without a goal scored this season.

But for a team that had lost four straight games entering its final weekend of the regular season, no one was going to be picky about where its scoring came from.

All that mattered was that it finally came.

Ohio (25-6-5) split its final series of the regular season with Central States Collegiate Hockey League opponent Illinois with a 4-0 win Friday, followed by a 3-2 shootout loss Saturday. With Friday’s win, the Bobcats clinched the regular season title for the CSCHL.

“It’s all about the process,” associate head coach David Nies said. “We battled through a lot of adversity the last couple weeks, and the seniors really stepped up and did a hell of a job getting us to this point. I’m just really proud of these guys.”

Illinois had to deal with an offensive onslaught courtesy of the Bobcats unlike anything the Bird Arena crowd had seen the previous two weeks. It began with Diego Breckenridge, who entered the game with just one goal on the season, taking Ohio’s first shot of the game and lighting the lamp behind the Illinois goalie.

Shortly after, the Bobcats were hit with a penalty, and were forced to go on the penalty kill. When an Illinois defenseman whiffed on a pass, Liam Geither took it over and began a 1-on-1 attack on the net that the Illini goalie didn’t have a chance at overcoming.

Just a minute later, as Illinois was still recovering from giving up a shorthanded goal, Mike Lafrenier fired the puck at the Illini goal from the Bobcats’ blue line and somehow found the net to give the Bobcats a 3-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.

Ohio staunch defense and the return to dominance by goalie Aaron Alkema (20 saves) carried the team the rest of the way, while Graham Harwood added a goal in third period to give the Bobcats their final total. The goals by Lafrenier and Harwood were their respective firsts of the season.

“We were prepared all week,” Nies said. “We really challenged each other in practice and everyone answered. The guys came out with a lot of passion both nights.”

Saturday night gave the senior night crowd a much closer battle. Following an emotional presentation before puck drop, the two teams played out a scoreless first period. It wasn’t until the second period that the Bobcats finally broke onto the scoreboard with a power play goal by Logan Pfeffer, breaking an 0-for-29 skid for Ohio on the power play.

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Illinois battled back with two goals in the third period, only to have Ohio turn the tables and play the comeback role, tying the game with less than four minutes left on a goal by Drew Crandall.

After neither team found the net in the five-minute sudden death period, the game moved onto Bird Arena’s first and only shootout of the season. Illinois got one goal through while Ohio failed to convert on three chances, allowing the Illini to spoil senior night and send the Bobcats into CSCHL Tournament with a total of five losses in their final six games.

“It’s kind of surreal,” senior Tom Whetsel said. “Four years here seems like it’s been four weeks. I’m humbled to be a part of this, and I’m very happy that I decided to play here. Until it was all over, I was still thinking about getting the win, but after we lost, it hit me that this is really it.”

Senior Scott Boyd got his sixth start of the season in net, saving 23 of the 25 shots that came his way and finishing the season with a 0.98 goals against average. Boyd’s parents flew 2,000 miles from his hometown in Alberta, Canada, to watch his final game.

“This is the first time my dad’s seen me play in four years, so it’s pretty special,” Boyd said. “I’ve got one family out there and one family (in the locker room), and when I look back at my time here, the times I’ve had with those guys are what I’m going to miss the most. That’s the toughest part about tonight.”

Ohio finished the regular season with an 18-2-3 record at home, outscoring its opponents 102-30. The Bobcats also had each non-goalie on its roster score a goal in the regular season.

Ohio returns to action next Friday in round one of the CSCHL Tournament.


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