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Hockey: Bobcats split series with Illinois for second time this season
After Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Illinois, Ohio’s locker room was almost silent, the clanking of sticks and the untying of skates were the only sounds filling the air.
But after Saturday’s 7-1 victory against the Fighting Illini, the Bobcats were in more of a dancing mood, grooving to “What Is Love” and showing off their moves outside the locker room to coach Dan Morris.
This series was the first set of games in a new game plan for the Bobcats, as Morris decided it was time for an adjustment in the team’s play. And despite splitting a fourth consecutive series, Morris said he was pleased with the team’s play in the new system.
“We dominated play and made three mistakes that cost us three goals,” Morris said after the loss on Friday. “I told the guys, ‘I gotta drive home tonight, and I’m not going to drive home and replay the game over and over in my head like I normally do.’”
Despite a slow start, Ohio dominated play for most of the game, keeping possession of the puck for 42 of the 60 minutes in regulation.
Despite the gap in puck possession, Illinois struck first as junior captain Austin Bostock took advantage of traffic in front of the net and beat junior netminder Fedor Dushkin.
The Bobcats evened the score on the power play in the second period, when sophomore defenseman Tyler Benson set up junior forward Brett Agnew for his eighth goal of the season.
But Illinois stayed persistent and took advantage of a mistake by Dushkin to give the Illini a 2-1 lead with 12 minutes remaining in the game. Ohio showed a flair for the dramatic, tying the game with 24 seconds remaining as junior Jonathan Gulch hammered a shot from the point past Illinois goalie Nick Clarke.
The Illini didn’t give the fans much time to celebrate as Bostock ended the game 33 seconds into overtime.
“We need to come 100 times stronger in the first period,” Gulch said following the loss.
Saturday gave Ohio fans much more to cheer about as the Bobcats dominated from start to finish.
The offense took center stage, as the Bobcats scored early and often. In the first period, senior Nick Rostek and freshman Michael Harris notched goals less than two minutes apart to give Ohio a 2-0 cushion heading into the first intermission.
Ohio hit the Illini with a barrage of goals in the second as a trio of freshmen Diego Breckinridge and Nick Hudeck recorded a goal each and James Howard added two more.
“Coach put in a new structure and it’s paying dividends,” Howard said. “Everybody seems to be fitting into the system and when you’re playing well defensively, it leads to offense. So you just chip in, go where you can and hopefully you can get the puck in and get a win.”
Morris said he was very happy with the way Howard played after a rough stretch of play leading up to Saturday’s game.
“He responded really well. His demeanor is better, he understands what we’re trying to do and he bounces back to have a great night (Friday) night and a really good game (Saturday),” Morris said.
-Ohio split a two-game series with Illinois, losing 3-2 in OT on Friday and winning 7-1 on Saturday.
-It was the fourth consecutive split for the Bobcats.
-Eight players scored a goal over the course of the two games.