Coach Cole Bell walked into Ohio’s locker room fuming. He wasn’t the only one. As the Bobcats came off the ice, sticks were slammed against the door and cries of frustration echoed in the hallway.
Ohio (9-3-3) had just been routed 4-1 by Lindenwood, its biggest rival in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League.
After four unanswered goals, the Bobcats were deep in a 4-1 hole in the second period and had no way out. Any and all offensive opportunities were squandered.
Lindenwood (11-4) earned a staggering 33 minutes in penalties Friday. For over half of the game the Lions were in the box. The Bobcats had eight power plays to put shots to the net.
They only scored on the first of those power plays, however, and failed to capitalize on all other advantages.
When graced with a seven-minute power play after Lindenwood defenseman Aapo Nurminen was disqualified in the third period, Ohio did not make a single shot on goal.
Even worse, the Bobcats had two separate times where they were on a 5-on-3 power play. They only mustered a combined two shots on goal.
“We got too cute with the puck,” Bell said. “We had the recipe in the first. Just get the puck to the net, create some traffic and bury the garbage.”
Regardless of whether the Bobcats kept pace with the Lions in the first period, the last 40 minutes threw that out the window. For those last 40 minutes, Ohio was allergic to the goal.
Friday was the test to see if Ohio’s ability to compete against top-ranked teams in the American Collegiate Hockey Association can turn into wins. After Friday’s game, Bell isn’t sure if the team can stack up yet.
“Lindenwood is one of the top teams in the league, and they play like it,” Bell said. “Dearborn and Liberty, same thing. They want to win, and that’s something we haven’t matched yet.”
Senior forward Tyler Harkins said the Bobcats need to remain level-headed. To Harkins, the Bobcats losing their cool is what’s standing in their way. Ohio earned 10 of its 14 penalty minutes in the second and third periods, when remaining calm was a necessity.
Harkins is hopeful that Ohio can turn around. The season isn’t halfway through, but these final series before the winter break will test how well Ohio can withstand pressure from highly-ranked opponents. The results haven’t been pretty, but they serve as lessons the Bobcats must learn from.
“It’s check time,” Harkins said. “Everyone has to dig deep, and if you can’t get motivated after you get smacked around, you have to take a look in the mirror.”
Bell leaves the choice up to the players.
“It’s up to them if they want to be one of the top teams in the country or if we just want to be mediocre,” Bell said.