COLUMBUS — At one end of the ice, helmets, gloves and sticks laid scattered as the final horn sounded. Players hollered and leapt into each other’s arms in sheer joy.
At the other end, Ohio watched.
“I mean I definitely watched a little bit,” fifth-year senior Liam Geither said with redness in his eyes. “Just thinking well, it could’ve been us.”
The Bobcats were stoic on the ice after a 3-0 loss to Central Oklahoma in the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Championship on Tuesday night at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.
Most of Ohio’s players dropped to a knee and hung their heads as the Central Oklahoma celebration began. When the Bronchos hurried to center ice to hoist their trophy, the Bobcats turned and left for the locker room.
“It stings, for sure,” Ohio coach Sean Hogan said. “You never really know what to say in those situations. The guys are down.”
After playing four games in five days, the season came crashing to an end. But the Bobcats weren’t out of energy in the final — they simply missed their chances.
Midway through the first period, Geither took a pass in front of Central Oklahoma’s net with a chance to open the scoring. He pulled the puck to his backhand and slid it wide of a foot-and-a-half opening.
Later in the period, a loose puck in the neutral zone sprung Central Oklahoma winger Andrei Novikov free for a breakaway. He made a quick move to his forehand and beat Ohio goalie Jimmy Thomas.
In the second, Ohio forward Patrick Spellacy hit the post. Later on the power play, Geither swiped at a rebound in close but it jumped over his stick.
Then the Bronchos scored again, this time from a quick pass below the net that Thomas couldn’t react to in time. An empty-netter sealed the game late in the third.
As they did nearly the entire season, Ohio peppered its opponent with shots. Ohio outshot Central Oklahoma every period and finished with a 44-23 advantage.
But the goals never came.
“I think if we just got that one (goal), especially early we had some chances,” Hogan said. “If we would’ve got the one, I think maybe it would’ve been a different story.”
Instead, Ohio’s story ended on a flat note.
An offense that averaged 5.3 goals per game in the regular season couldn’t buy one. The Bobcats were shut out for just the third time this season in 37 games.
In the immediate moments after the game, Spellacy and Geither knelt on the ice with their heads drooped. Ohio captain Matt Hartman skated to his fellow seniors and embraced them.
For those three, as well as Ohio’s other seven seniors, the missed scoring chances meant more than a single loss. The seniors had missed their chance to put a banner in the Bird Arena rafters before their time at Ohio expired.
“You guys are my brothers,” Hartman said to Spellacy and Geither. “Keep your head up. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.”
Indeed, the group of seniors leave Ohio with a reason for pride. They won 113 of their 158 games over four seasons and, after just one win in three previous national tournaments, helped surge the Bobcats to the national championship for the first time since 2004.
Hartman addressed some younger players, too. To them, his message was about looking past this game and to a future that promises to be bright.
“You guys are going to be here next year,” he said. “You’re going to be competing for a national championship for years to come. Harness that pain you feel now and use it toward next year.”