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Ohio senior forward Vincent Nicolella watches as Illinois freshman defender Benjamin Jeon passes the puck during their game on Feb. 5 at Bird Arena. 

Hockey: Ohio sweeps Illinois, seniors end career at Bird Arena on a high note

The No. 7 Bobcats beat No. 16 Illini by scores of 7-5 and 6-2 on the weekend.

Ohio sent out its oldest starting lineup of the year on Saturday. 

Four of its five seniors — with defenseman Tyler Pecka sidelined due to injury — skated to center ice for the opening faceoff. Bobcat coach Sean Hogan has a tradition of starting as many seniors as possible in their final home game. 

“They get their name announced and they usually start the game off with high energy because they’re excited,” Hogan said. “It just feels like something that’s the right thing to do.” 

The Bobcats honored their seniors by completing a two-game sweep of Illinois at Bird Arena. 

The seniors made the most of their final home game Saturday by leading the team to a convincing 6-2 win. 

Derek Rahme scored on his final shot at Bird Arena. Michael Harris had three assists, and Diego Breckenridge launched himself into a brief post-whistle melee. Vincent Nicolella was a key penalty killer and created offensive chances from the fourth line. 

“I told them I was proud of them,” Hogan said. “I told them to take a moment here and remember these moments and take it all in.” 

Saturday’s win came on the heels of a come-from-behind 7-5 win Friday night, in which the Bobcats trailed by three at the end of the first period. 

The comeback was on in the second period, as Ohio (*27-7-1) netted three goals to tie it. Carrying over to the third, the Bobcats strung together six-straight goals and buried the Fighting Illini. 

Several Bobcats were forced out of the weekend series, or struggled through, because of a variety of injuries and illnesses. Given his limited roster options, Hogan commended his team for its “resiliency and will to come back from behind.” 

Before Saturday’s game began, Ohio rolled out a red carpet to honor each senior individually. When their names were called, they skated to the carpet, hugged Hogan and their parents and posed for a picture. 

Joining them for a group photo was former Bobcat Nick Hudeck, who would’ve graduated with the senior class. Just after his sophomore year, however, Hudeck sustained injuries in a tragic accident and could no longer play hockey. 

“He was the heart and soul of our class,” Pecka said. “He was a grinder. He was a good player, good teammate, just a good kid all around.” 

After the game, the five seniors, along with their families and friends, stayed on the ice to take pictures and reminisce about their time at Bird Arena. 

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The weekend was about Ohio sending its seniors off on a positive note, but also about the team overcoming fatigue and injury to build momentum for what remains on the schedule. 

“Obviously we want to embrace this moment we have right now with the five of us being done at Bird Arena,” Pecka said. “We’ve played some of the best hockey we’ve played in 2016 this weekend and we just have to keep that rolling. And that’s what we’ll do.” 

@JordanHorrobin 

jh950614@ohio.edu

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