Ohio seniors Drew Crandall, Jake Faiella and Mike Palasics stood in a huddle toward the away team bench.
No matter how tightly they clung onto each other, it wouldn’t have changed the end result. Ohio lost 4-3 to Illinois in overtime Saturday on Senior Night.
“We’ve faced a lot of adversity together,” Faiella said. “That was one of our toughest tests, all I could say (to them) was 'I love you like brothers.'”
Unfortunately for the senior trio and the rest of the Bobcats, they were unable to pass Saturday’s test as they split their weekend series with the Fighting Illini.
With only 27 seconds left in overtime, Illinois forced a turnover and took the puck down the length of the ice. After a series of quick passes, Ohio had been bested as Illinois put the final puck in net to end an emotional night both on and off the ice.
“3-on-3 overtime is all about possession and it starts with the face off,” coach Sean Hogan said. “We won the first one and they won the second. Then it’s all about hunting pucks and getting them back.”
Illinois had a stranglehold grip during the overtime as it controlled the puck for nearly four of the five minutes.
“We threw it a few times and it’s because we were tired,” Hogan said. “It’s all about possession.”
Unlike Friday's victory, Ohio came out in the first period much more aggressively as it registered 10 shots on goal and a power-play goal off the stick of sophomore forward Tyler Harkins.
But where there’s more aggression, there’s typically room for a wider margin of error, and penalty minutes began to rack up as they game went on.
At the halfway mark in the second period, Ohio suffered a big loss as junior defenseman Tom Pokorney was ejected for the remainder of the game because of a 10-minute head contact penalty.
As a result, the Bobcats were left with only four defensemen: Faiella, junior Grant Hazel, and sophomores Shawn Baird and Nick Grose. In total, Ohio served 29 minutes in penalties.
Despite the short numbers, the Bobcats were persistent in their pursuit to avoid overtime and generated many chances from the halfway mark of the third period.
Shot after shot got flung at the Illinois goalie, but it wasn’t until 3:42 when Faiella slapped a shot from the blue line that just got past the goalie’s stick to put Ohio up 3-2.
“Honestly, I was relieved,” Faiella said. “I didn’t really know what had happened, but I heard everyone start to cheer and I could barely put my arms up to celebrate.”
It had seemed that once again, despite a short bench, that Ohio was going to leave the ice with a win and a storybook ending, as its captain had scored what would’ve been the game-winning goal on senior night.
Only sometimes, stories don’t end how they’re expected. Ohio held onto its one goal lead for just over a minute, as Illinois scored following a turnover in the neutral zone.
“We just got stationary on that last one,” Hogan said. “The defense got a little too lax, but we were tired and it showed.”
Tired, beat-up and exhausted, the Bobcats' bench mustered all the strength it had left to compete in overtime, but it just wasn’t enough.
“It was a marathon,” Faiella said. “This is the most tired I’ve ever been in my career.”
As Crandall, Faiella and Palasics broke their huddle, despite the 60-plus minutes they had just played, they received the standing ovation they deserved.
“I’m just so proud of them,” Hogan said. “We’ve still got more to come.”