COLUMBUS — Senior defenseman Jake Faiella was stoic as he skated in tiny circles just a few feet away from Ohio’s bench at the OhioHealth Ice Haus.
As he wiped his eyes of both sweat and tears, the realization that his time at Ohio was over hadn’t set in. The moment became real when he entered locker room after a 4-3 overtime loss against Illinois on Sunday in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament’s quarterfinal game.
“Four years went by really quick,” Faiella said.
As the clock dwindled down in regulation and Illinois’ 3-2 lead seemed to grow bigger and bigger, sophomore forward Tyler Harkins tapped the puck with his stick, and it snuck between the goalie’s leg.
With momentum on their side, the Bobcats entered overtime backed by a crowd predominantly filled with their fans. The Ice Haus rocked with cheers when an Illinois skater was called for holding and Ohio’s chance at victory grew with the man advantage.
The Bobcats ripped a series of shots at the Illinois net; none of them landed as they ended in fractional misses and pings off the post.
“Hockey is a game of inches,” coach Sean Hogan said. “We had a ton of chances, and the stats will indicate that.”
Hogan’s not wrong. The Bobcats outshot the Illini 59-29 but didn’t capitalize on power plays.
In a season filled with up-and-down power-play success, Ohio failed to score on all six of its chances.
In turn, the penalty kill reigned supreme for the Bobcats, as it killed off all but one of the Illini’s chances.
The one chance it didn't was during a 4-on-3 in overtime.
Illinois, in a series low-to-high passes, was able to rip off a shot parallel to the goalie crease.
“It’s hard (to defend a 4-on-3), man” Faiella said. “You’ve got to make a couple of huge blocks; they’ve got to make a couple of mistakes. In our heads, we’re just saying, ‘We’re killing it, we’re killing it.’”
And those things did happen. Junior forward-turned-defensemen Cody Black blocked a shot that sent the puck all the way into the neutral zone. Illinois miscommunicated a few times and allowed Ohio to clear the puck.
Those plays are forgettable moments because, in the end, Illinois moved on to play in the semi-finals and Ohio is left wondering what could’ve been.
In a season filled with adverse moments — injuries, player and coach departures, and power-play woes — it’s now all in the past.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Hogan said as he fought back tears. “Our 21 guys battled to the end, and I’m proud.”