The sixth-ranked Ohio Bobcats (22-6-1) hockey team defeated the seventh-ranked Iowa State Cyclones (25-7-2) on Friday night 5-2 after a scoring outburst early in the third period.
Early in the game, the focus was on heavy defensive pressure with both teams having prime scoring opportunities stopped by well-timed stick lifts or poke checks. The normally aggressive Bobcats offense would find themselves in foot races back to the defensive zone and facing penalty troubles in the first half of the first period.
“It is a very physical game. They’re a good team,” said head coach Jonathan Sheridan. “They’re very defensive-minded also, I’d like to say we are. I’d like to see it cleaned up a little bit, but those are fun games to play in when you have two evenly matched teams and one mistake could cost you.”
Despite their frequent trips to the penalty box, the Bobcats defense held steady and managed to hold Iowa State to only three shots on their first three powerplays, including only one shot through the first two. Meanwhile, when the Bobcats received their chance they wouldn’t let it pass them by.
On their second powerplay opportunity, the Bobcats began to cycle around the conservative diamond style penalty kill. With Nathan De La Torre directing at the point a rebound fluttered into the corner and was picked up by Joe Breslin and sent up the side boards to Michael Harris. Harris moved in to the face-off dot and rifled a shot low through traffic for a five-hole goal. His goal would stand as the only score through the first two periods.
“Special teams down the road is always going to matter,” Sheridan said. “If your powerplay is going and your penalty kill is going, then you’re going to be successful down the road.”
J.C. Gulch, playing his first game back in Athens this season since his return after the winter break, was forceful early in the game. He led the team through the first period with two shots and three bone-shattering hits.
“Gulch is a great player,” Sheridan said. “It’s great to have him back. I’d say he’s one of the most consistent defensemen we have, probably in the nation. Always makes a coach happy when you have a kid like that coming back to help out. He’s doing the small things right, still working on a little conditioning-wise.”
The second period was devoid of scoring, but featured one of the most exciting plays of the game from Iowa State. With nearly seven minutes remaining in the period, the Cyclones killed off a penalty and got the puck off to freshman Chase Rey. Rey then flew by the defense right up the middle and broke through for a breakaway opportunity. He was slashed on the play while goaltender Aaron Alkema poked the puck away.
Due to the slash, Rey was given a penalty shot. He came in to the left side and stayed patient, but Alkema held steady and made the save with his right pad kicking out.
“I’d say since we came back from the break [Alkema’s] been our best, most consistent player,” Sheridan said. “I wish we could’ve worked a little harder for him with ten minutes remaining, but he’s stood tall and he’s a great player and still playing great for us thankfully”
Starting the third period, the Bobcats took control with an aggressive offense and an early powerplay. Nearing the end of the powerplay, a scrum along the right side boards saw Michael Harris knock the puck to the blue line for Nathan De La Torre. He moved to the middle and fired a shot five-hole that trickled through and across the line.
“Sometimes our guys get away from what we do well and try to play to their level,” Sheridan said. “When we play someone else’s game we aren’t good at that. When we play our game, we are good and you saw it in the third. That was our best period by playing our way and paying attention to details, the small little things really add up for us. When we don’t make the small plays it kind of hurts our guys and hurts our flow to the game. So when our guys kind of get their head right and play like we’re supposed to it shows.”
Only a minute and a half later, the Bobcats were back on offense with a dump into the offensive zone. Brett Agnew gave chase behind the net drawing the defender out to the left where Patrick Spellacy laid into him with a heavy hit to knock the puck loose. Matt Hartman followed through with the play and took the puck, holding by a defender and waiting for the goalie to drop his glove before rifling it by for a goal.
Just a minute later the Bobcats went on the powerplay. It took only 12 seconds for the Green & White to score again with a simple give and go play. Gulch at the point gave it to Brett Agnew then cutting straight to the net to draw the front defender from the diamond out. Agnew touched it back to Kretz filling in at the point for a one-timer that soared by the glove and gave the Bobcats a 4-1 lead.
“Kretzy’s finally fallen into his own this year,” Sheridan said. “He’s worked hard his first two years and paid his dues. So it’s good to see the kid being successful on the scoresheet. He’s a hard worker and a good kid. He works hard in the classroom, in practice, and he’s a great teammate to have. I’m happy for him and I know all the guys are too.”
Immediately following the goal, Iowa State called timeout and pulled their starting goalie who allowed four goals on 27 shots. Matthew Cooper entered in net and wouldn’t allow another goal while filling in.
The Bobcats soon after took a penalty and would allow their first powerplay goal against from the right side of the goal line by Rey. Two minutes later after another penalty on the Bobcats, Rey scored another goal by using Tyler Pecka to screen Alkema during four-on-four action.
“We took penalties,” Sheridan said. “Penalties hurt you, and they’re momentum killers. When you’re riding a high like that, taking a penalty brings you down pretty quick. They scored some goals on their powerplay so, we just have to be smarter. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all the calls, but that’s how they’re called and that’s how it is.”
After an empty net goal, the Bobcats take a 5-2 win into their next game once again against Iowa State on Saturday night.