Jake Houston fought his way to Pitt’s blue line along the left wing.
He sent the puck flying to the net on a blind shot. To his surprise, it sneaked past Panthers goalie Matt Snader.
“I saw nothing,” Houston said. “I just shot the puck, and luckily, it went in the net.”
Defense is the best offense, and that showed in Ohio’s 7-5 victory over Pitt on Friday. Six of the 12 goals scored by either team happened on a play after a turnover.
Both teams played hard and mean, trying to outrun one another. While the speed was beneficial during breakaways or early in the game, the pace quickly muddled the passing game. It wasn’t uncommon for a routine pass to result in a turnover and, eventually, a goal.
By the second period, the Bobcats had pulled well ahead of the Panthers. The gap only widened by capitalizing off Pitt’s mistakes. All three of Ohio's goals in the second period came after forcing a turnover.
“That’s something we’ve talked about a lot,” coach Cole Bell said. “We want to create those turnovers and attack before the other team can get back into their defensive structure.”
The Panthers refused to go quietly. They scored three unanswered goals in seven minutes during the third period. In fewer than 10 minutes, Pitt had closed the gap that Ohio had spent the entire second period widening.
Ohio struggled to find a foothold. During those seven minutes, the Bobcats rarely moved out of their defensive zone. Bell called a timeout to set his team’s heads straight.
“We were trying to play by ourselves instead of as a five-man unit,” Bell said. “Coming back from that timeout got us back into how we played during the first 40 minutes.”
After Houston broke the tie, Ohio got back in its groove. The Bobcats were moving as a unit and pushing back hard against Pitt. In an attempt to force overtime, Pitt pulled Snader from the crease in exchange for an extra attacker.
Kyle Craddick capitalized on the empty net. In a 3-on-1 with under a minute left in the game, Craddick scored the insurance goal and ended Pitt’s comeback bid.
The Bobcats almost blew a three-goal lead, though. Just three goals was enough to let Ohio feel overly confident and loosen its grip on the Panthers. If the Bobcats had not been as sharp on defense tonight, Pitt might have left Bird Arena with its first win against the Bobcats since 1986.
Craddick and Bell asserted that Ohio can’t underestimate its opponents. As the season winds down, the American Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament draws closer. Ohio has the parts to be a competing team but needs to make sure it doesn’t take its talent for granted.
“We’ve got to bear down and start burying teams,” Craddick said. “It’s at that point in the season where we can’t let things like tonight happen or we’re going home early.”