Hockey comes up short in ACHA playoffs

Carolyn Drummond

Despite loss, team happy with effort

VIEW photos from the championship.

The Kent State hockey team made an early exit from the postseason last night, but coaches and players were still proud of the team’s effort.

The No. 12 Flashes fell 9-4 to the No. 5 Oklahoma Sooners in the first round of the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Championship.

“It’s not the way you want to go out, but on the other hand, we played well,” Kent State coach Jarret Whidden said. “We did everything we could. It wasn’t a lack of heart.”

Kent State came out strong with a goal from senior forward Chris Hourigan two minutes into the game. Putting the first point on the board received a strong reaction from the crowd of Kent State fans.

“Everybody came out ready to play,” senior forward John Stefani said. “We were chompin’ at the bit to get out there.”

That eagerness to play came about partly because the Flashes’ game was put on hold for a day.

The team was scheduled to play Saturday night, but a high level of carbon monoxide in the Gilmour Academy Ice Arena led to an evacuation of the building and the postponement of two games. The tournament resumed yesterday morning, and the Flashes were put on the schedule for that evening.

In addition to Hourigan’s point, senior forward Jason O’Bannon scored a power-play goal later in the first period.

However, Oklahoma responded to each Kent State goal.

“They had an answer every time we scored,” senior forward Eddie Martin said.

Penalties turned the game in Oklahoma’s favor. The Sooners converted on five power-play chances.

“If we stayed out of the box, who knows what kind of game it could have been,” Stefani said.

A goal from Martin in the second kept the Flashes alive and sent them into the final period down by one.

But Oklahoma scored three goals in the first half of the third, bringing the score to 7-3.

With four minutes left, junior goalie Ryan Gregory was pulled to put an extra attacker on the ice.

Stefani took advantage of that chance and scored a minute later.

“We played our hardest to the end,” Martin said. “We fight to the end. That’s the type of team we are.”

The Flashes’ comeback attempt fell short because the team couldn’t score any more goals.

“When you play a team like that, you have to bury every chance you get,” Whidden said.

The Sooners scored their eighth and ninth goals with two empty-netters in the final two minutes.

The end of the tournament for the Flashes was also the end of Kent State hockey for 11 seniors.

“I’ve been playing hockey for 20 years, and now it’s over just like that,” Stefani said. “Playing at Kent has been the best experience of my life.”

Whidden said the seniors were a key element in team success.

“It’s been a blessing to coach these guys – each and every one of them,” Whidden said.

Assistant coach Brian Gahagan said it wasn’t just skill the seniors brought to the team.

“It’s not only their work on the ice, but their hard work behind the scenes building this program up,” Gahagan said.

Dedication from the seniors has helped create a respected and recognized program in the collegiate hockey community, senior forward Stu Smith said. He said prospective students are asking to play for Kent State now.

With so many seniors leaving, there will be plenty of positions open on the team.

“There are a lot of big shoes to fill,” Smith said. “Some guys are going to have to step up.”

Next season the Flashes will look to continue their national appearance streak by qualifying for the ACHA playoffs for the fourth straight year.

“Better luck next year, I guess,” Gahagan said.

Contact club sports reporter Carolyn Drummond at [email protected].