The Bobcats have reached the halfway point of their regular season and, as usual, look poised to compete for a national title in March.
But they probably have a bad taste in their mouths heading into the Thanksgiving break after splitting a series against No. 17 Illinois this past weekend at Bird Arena.
No. 2 Ohio (14-3-1) started strong with a 7-2 win on Friday that aired on ESPN3, but stumbled Saturday in a 1-0 loss.
When Saturday’s final buzzer sounded, the fans went quiet. The Bobcats were dejected. And Illinois goalie Joe Olen fell to the ground — most likely out of happiness and exhaustion.
“(Olen’s) the reason they won,” Ohio head coach Sean Hogan said. “It was in their end the entire time. Just couldn’t buy a goal.”
Ohio sent 46 shots at Olen — probably more, Hogan pointed out, because shots aren’t always counted accurately on the scoreboard — but couldn’t get any past him. One night before, the Bobcats had chased him from the game with six goals in two periods.
“It wasn’t an effort thing,” Hogan said. “It wasn’t an execution thing. We had tons of chances.”
Ohio had three powerplays and three even-strength chances worth noting.
In the first period, Jake Faiella hit the crossbar with a shot and Bryan Lubin was stopped on a breakaway. In the second, a loose puck got behind Olen in the crease but was knocked away just before Joey Breslin could reach it.
Goalie Ryan Heltion allowed the game’s lone goal with 2:22 left when a slapshot hit him in the chest and an Illinois player tapped in the rebound.
“At the end of the day, my job is to stop the puck and for one shot I didn’t do my job,” Heltion said. “I have to go back and make sure I put the work in in practice to not have something like that happen again.”
One of the knocks on Ohio’s offense this season, when it struggles, is its failure to take advantage of second chance opportunities — namely loose pucks and rebounds. The Bobcats had no such problem Friday en route to a 7-2 win.
“The last couple games, man, we’d get shots and there’d be rebounds and nobody’s in front of the net,” forward Mike Palasics said. “Like coach said, we were playing perimeter hockey and getting shots from outside the net but not going to the net.”
The Bobcats outshot the Fighting Illini 16-8 in the first 20 minutes to grab a lead that proved to be enough.
Just 15 seconds in, before some fans had a chance to find a seat, Mike Palasics stuffed in a loose puck to start the scoring.
Hogan chose to start his fourth line — featuring Palasics, Lubin and Cody Black — on recommendation of assistant coach J.J. Crew, who’d noticed their work in practice during the week.
“(Crew) goes, ‘Start that line,' ” Hogan said. “ ‘They’ll score on the first shift of the game.’ And they did.”
After Illinois tied the game with an equally greasy goal, the Bobcats went on a scoring spree with three rebound goals in the final six minutes of the period.
Liam Geither capitalized on a rebound off the goalie’s right pad. Patrick Spellacy tapped in Matt Hartman’s redirection. Then Breslin hit a wide-open net to give the Bobcats a 4-1 lead.
Although Saturday’s game was starkly different, Friday showed Ohio who it wants to be.
“We’re so deep this year,” Palasics said. “Anybody can produce. Whether it’s defensemen, forwards, any line that goes out there, they have the capability of producing.”