Grant Hazel and coach Sean Hogan hugged it out at center ice for one last time.
In that moment, after Ohio’s 3-2 loss in the American Collegiate Hockey Association to league foe Iowa State, the two wrapped up a journey they didn’t want to end just yet.
It was the last time either of them would be behind the Bobcats bench, and while they knew it had to end somehow, perhaps it was too early of an ending.
“I told them how proud of them I was,” Hogan said. “They gave me everything they had.”
The Bobcats’ goals came off the sticks of two seniors: Matt Rudin and Gabe Lampron. The assists on the goals were from more seniors: Nick Grose and Tom Pokorney.
And the box score reflects just how close Ohio was in its season finale. The two teams were separated by two penalty minutes, three shots on goal and the Cyclones’ game winner from Tony Uglem.
Ohio had faced off against Iowa State five times prior to Sunday’s game. The Bobcats had beaten the Cyclones three out of the five times, but in the most important game of the saga, they didn’t.
The Bobcats’ course against their league foe is eerily similar to last year’s stretch against Illinois. The two teams faced off six times, and on the national quarterfinal stage, Ohio lost by one goal.
The injuries were on the table for the Bobcats. Goalie Jimmy Thomas played two tournament games with a groin injury and still managed to post a .939 save percentage on the national stage.
Tyler Harkins had a six-point national tournament in just two games.
All of it means nothing now, though. As good as it played, Ohio’s skaters have unlaced their skates for the final time this season.
Six of them won’t be back next season; they’ll graduate in the spring. Soon enough for the other 18, it’ll be time to put the skates back on.
Unlike last season, uncertainties are plenty for its returners. The Bobcats will have a new coach, but no one knows who. There’s always the possibility of transfers, though doubtful because of the close-knit group Ohio prides itself to be.
The four-time ACHA National Champions will yet again have to spend another offseason wondering what could’ve been. It’s been 15 years since its last ACHA crown, and it’s been close but not close enough.
In the end, the Bobcats still have much to look forward to. Their top three point scorers from this season all return. Their star goalie is back in net. They retain the tools to return to the spot they were in in their quarterfinals loss.
Much like Hogan and Hazel’s journey, only time will define how it will go.