Every bit of adversity Ohio went through this season has paid off.

Tied with Missouri State 4-4 with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game, the Bobcats had the perfect chance to prove they were more than their 5-15 record and were worthy competitors in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament. 

Kyle Craddick, the captain who has helped lead Ohio through the bumpy season, took a shot from the top of the circle with 26 seconds left and delivered the puck right into the net, sealing the Bobcats’ 5-4 round one victory over the Bears on Saturday morning at Maryville University Hockey Center. 

Ohio was in a bit of a rough spot toward the end of the game. After holding a 4-2 lead with six minutes remaining, Missouri State offensive stars Alex Rubin and Josh Bell scored two unanswered goals in less than two minutes to tie things up. The Bobcats did a good job of containing Rubin and Bell for most of the game, but the two got past goaltender Max Karlenzig and the defense at what might have been the worst time for Ohio. 

The game continued at a standstill for nearly four minutes. Neither the Bobcats nor the Bears were ready to go packing after what had been a close, energetic and competitive matchup. Drew Magyar, J.T. Schimizzi, Alex Singley and Nick Erker’s goals would go to waste if the Bears scored again. Craddick was not going to allow that.

Ohio had witnessed itself frequently giving up leads late in the game earlier in the season, and while it often did against top-ranked teams, the scenery on Saturday was looking a little familiar. Ohio coach Cole Bell wanted his team to have a tough schedule so they were prepared for moments like these. With 26 seconds in the game, Ohio proved it was ready.

Following Craddick’s game-winning goal, the energy inside the rink immediately shifted back in Ohio’s favor, as one could see from the few Bobcat faithful in the stands. When the remaining 26 seconds ticked down and the final buzzer went off, the entire team surrounded each other to celebrate the hard-fought win. It was only the beginning of the tournament, but now everyone knows Ohio can fight. 

There were plenty of learning opportunities the Bobcats can take away from the win. One glaring stat is the shot difference. Despite the close score, Ohio greatly outshot Missouri State 52-28. The game was almost much further in the Bobcats’ favor, if it weren’t for a number of shots that were inches away from getting past the Bears’ Matthew Griffin. All game, it felt as if Ohio was a smidgen away from a truly comfortable lead. The close score is a reminder that shots can be meaningless if no score comes from them.

Ohio is now warmed up for round two, where it will face a familiar opponent in Liberty. The Bobcats are 1-7 against the Flames this season, meaning that, once again, Ohio has something to prove against its tournament opponent. 

The puck is scheduled to drop Sunday at 11:15 a.m. or 2:30 p.m., depending on the result of Minot State vs. Calvin.