It took extra time both nights, but the Kent State club hockey team kept itself in national tournament position this weekend by defeating No. 9 Ohio on Friday and Saturday night.
“Our season was riding on this weekend,” senior forward Chris Hourigan said. “We played with our hearts on our sleeves.”
Friday, the team won 4-3 as Hourigan and senior forward Ryan Nawrocki scored in a shootout to give the Flashes the victory.
Another close game Saturday went into overtime with Hourigan scoring a power-play goal to beat Ohio 3-2.
“We talk a lot about great players stepping up in great moments,” Kent State coach Jarret Whidden said. “Chris showed why he is who he is – a goal-scorer and our go-to guy.”
In addition to Hourigan’s key plays, goaltending kept the team in both games. Not allowing many rebounds, junior goalie Ryan Gregory was solid in the net both nights until an injury sent him to the locker room at the start of the third period Saturday.
With one period left in the game, freshman goalie Anthony Natali took the ice after sitting out all weekend. He didn’t allow a single goal.
“He really stepped up,” said Whidden, who added Gregory will be fine. “He did a superb job of stepping in and being cold.”
Natali said he saw it as just part of being a goalie.
“It was pretty intense, but I just went out there and did my job,” Natali said.
That kind of composure helped the Flashes win in a harsh environment on Ohio’s home ice.
“Whenever you play in their arena, it’s real loud,” senior defenseman Nick Robillard said. “It’s the toughest place to play.”
So tough, in fact, that not long ago Kent State couldn’t win in Bird Arena.
“Three years ago we had never won in their building, so it means a whole lot to come in here and win,” senior forward Stu Smith said.
The Flashes and Bobcats have worked up a rivalry that makes their play fast-paced and physical when they face one another.
“It’s always intense,” Smith said. “We’re trying to leave a mark when we hit each other.”
That physical play worked in the Flashes’ favor Saturday, as Hourigan and senior forward Eddie Martin scored power-play goals with Ohio players in the penalty box.
Martin scored off an assist by sophomore forward Mike Lepre halfway through the second period. Kent State was on the power play after Ohio forward Michael Schultz was ejected from the game for spearing Smith.
Schultz is also suspended from the first game of the Central States Collegiate Hockey League playoffs.
Going into the playoffs, Whidden is happy with his team’s performance over the weekend.
“As a team, it’s really the first time everybody was involved,” Whidden said. “Everybody stepped up, and I’m proud of them.”
Kent State will face Ohio again Friday morning in the first round of the CSCHL playoffs.
“We’re going to have to keep coming out flying,” senior forward John Stefani said. “We’re going to have to keep the same intensity. All of us want to go out on top.”
Contact club sports reporter Carolyn Drummond at [email protected]