The 10th-ranked Ohio Bobcats hockey team (2-1-1) fell in regulation to the 14th-ranked Liberty University Flames (6-0-0) despite an incredible offensive output by a score of 7-6.
Ohio would finish the game having produced 37 shots at freshman goaltender Ryan Heltion making his third start of the season. The game was plagued by physicality that would render both teams penalty-prone and emotion driven.
“Absolutely the most physical team [we’ve played all year],” commented head coach Jonathan Sheridan on his opposition. “That’s how they play. They come out and rough you up a little bit. We expect that coming in. I think our guys handled it well. Obviously there’s a few things we need to clean up on that side of it, but other than that it was alright.”
The Flames opened the scoring just over two minutes into the game with a face-off win from an icing penalty. The face-off win went back to Jackson Kuhn cornered against the blue line and boards on the right point. He fired off a rocket of a slap shot that was redirected by senior Caleb Grow and found its way past the blocker of Heltion.
“They’re a great team,” said coach Sheridan after the game. “They’re averaging eight point something goals a game and they’re going to put goals up. I think they’re a beatable team. I don’t think they’re something out of our league, but we just have to play harder than they did. They wanted it more tonight.”
The Bobcats would answer almost four minutes later with a powerplay goal on their first attempt with the man advantage in the evening. With Mike Kretz battling along the boards, freshman Joe Breslin pulled the puck out and made a loose-puck deke around the defender before passing it to the left side for a one-timer finish from senior Brett Agnew.
Scoring would end there for the period, but the players would continue constant aggression tormenting both goaltenders and frustrating their opposition.
Eventually, the Bobcats would take a lead in the contest. With 11:32 remaining in the second period, Tom Whetsel received a pass and started the rush. He would make a deke to his left to catch the defender off balance and make a pass to the right face-off circle, where J.D. Howard held the puck and measured up his shot. He fired a hard wrist shot short side over the blocker for a necessary tie-breaker.
It appeared the Bobcats were ready to seize the opportunity after that, with a very aggressive offensive approach giving them multiple opportunities. However, only forty seconds later the Flames found themselves with a big opportunity as the defenders pinched on the play and the puck slipped by them. Kyle Garcia was able to drive by Tyler Benson, but was stoned by the left pad save from Heltion.
That would prove to be one of multiple big saves that Heltion had on the evening, however he also had his fair share of blunders as well. Just a minute later, he would find himself unable to find the puck and laying on the ice in a crowded crease as the Flames tied the game up again.
The two teams would continue to counter each other, with the Flames often taking the lead off incredible plays including a 3-on-2 rush with the puck carrier, Lindsay LeBlanc firing a shot five-hole to regain the lead. After two more goals were scored, the Bobcats found their fire again on the powerplay.
With Nathan De La Torre at the point directing the powerplay, the Bobcats began cycling the puck around. De La Torre would have his first three shots of the game miss the net completely, but found the goaltender on his first shot on goal. He would find the back of the net with a simple two-man play with Benson giving a touch-pass back for a one-timer past the glove for his first goal of the season.
The Bobcats wouldn’t go into the intermission without some fireworks. Before a face-off following the final goal of the period for Liberty, David Ramos began jostling on the wing with Charles Williams. Ramos would knock the stick out of Williams’ hands, prompting the officials to separate the two and some casual trash talk that would yield penalties for both teams just six seconds later.
Entering the final frame with a 5-4 deficit, the Bobcats appeared to be ready to attack. However, they eventually fizzled out with Liberty getting a big breakout opportunity. At 13:20 remaining, Tyson Street received a pass at the blue line and tapped it back and slightly out of reach for Robert Ward. Tyler Benson would slowly drift back toward the defensive zone, but Ward rushed back and got a step on Benson before firing a shot over Heltion’s glove for the 6-4 lead to seal their victory.
Heltion would eventually face a potential injury, but remained in the game for a penalty shot and a save that seemed to save their chance at a comeback.
“I thought he did well,” said coach Sheridan about his goaltender. “I mean I’m sure there’s a few that he wants back, but oh well. He did very well. I’m very pleased with him. The guys rallied around him, he came up big on the penalty shot. You can’t ask more of him there. We just need to put up a couple more goals next time.”
Patrick Spellacy would score later in the period, but the game winner would come for Liberty from Ryley Egan getting a goal to trickle past Heltion. Heltion would be looking at his pads following the goal, confused about the final tally.
The Bobcats had incredible play from many players, but one player stood out with 2 shots, 2 shot blocks, multiple steals and hits, and being involved in many scrums. Freshman Matt Hartman found himself playing in the final minute of action and helping to produce near-goals, but never making it on the score sheet.
“Matty did great for us,” said coach Sheridan. “I think he was the best player on the ice for us tonight. He was doing everything. He killed the penalties, he was on the powerplay, five-on-five he looked great. He’s a kid who’s always working hard, his motor never stops and I’m very pleased with him.”
Ohio will finish up the weekend series against Liberty on Saturday night in Bird Arena at 7:30 in what is expected to be a high scoring affair once again.