Senior Ryan Kenney cleans out his OU hockey locker stall for the final time (Photo by Jarrod Yost).
The OU hockey team saw its season end early Tuesday morning, after falling to defending champion Illinois, 3-2 in double overtime.
OU had defeated Kent State 9-4 in the opening round to advance to the quarter finals to face Illinois. The loss to Illinois marked the fourth consecutive nationals appearance in which OU failed to advance past the second round.
Senior forward Doug Gebbie said this loss was particularly hard to swallow.
“We really fought out there tonight,” Gebbie said. “To lose like we did, after dominating the whole game, is just really tough.”
Sooner hockey fans will have to wait until September to see their team in action again, as the 2008-2009 season is now officially in the books. Gebbie said the players will move into their spring training workout routines, which usually focus on cardiovascular and weight training.
The Fighting Illini of Illinois scored first in the quarter final matchup on a power play goal from Matt Jennings, which came late in the first period. Oklahoma picked up a goal from junior Robert Hetrick to tie the game at one before the first period ended.
Illinois’ Johnny Liang put the Illini up 2-1, before the Sooners tied the game up with less than three minutes remaining in regulation.
OU Captain Austin Miller scored the goal that tied the game up.
“I really just blacked out,” Miller said. “I got the puck and then I remember celebrating the goal.”
The first overtime was scoreless, forcing a second extra frame.
“I had never been involved in a game like this one,” Gebbie said. “It was just a marathon out there, last man standing wins.”
Just over one minute into the second overtime, Liang scored again to give Illinois a berth in the national semi-final game. Despite the Sooners’ claims that the net had been dislodged, the goal stood.
Liang credited his teammate, Jordan Pringle, for the play he made on the game winner.
"[Jordan] Pringle made a great pass, and I had a wide open net, and was able to put it in." Liang said, as he struggled for breath directly following the game.
According to the American Collegiate Hockey Association website, Liang was later named second team all-tournament. Illinois’ goaltender, Mike Burda, who was dominant against the Sooners, was named all tournament first-team
“It’s certainly a tough way to end it,” Miller said. “We felt like that goal should not have counted, but regardless, it did.”
Miller expressed his displeasure with the call made on the ice, breaking his stick over the net post when the referee signaled that the eventual winning goal would indeed count.
Officials from the tournament later said that they stood by the call made on the ice.
“I just felt like the guy [official] just wanted to get out of there,” Miller said. “He did not even discuss the call with the other officials on the ice.”
Illinois defeated Penn State in the semi-final round, before falling to Lindenwood in the championship round, 4-1.
Lindenwood’s website says the championship is a first for men’s ice hockey at the university, but not for hockey in general. The Lady Lions recently captured the ACHA division 1 women’s hockey title for the second straight season.
For the Sooners, it will be an off-season of rebuilding, as the team will lose 8 seniors for the 2009-2010 season. Miller said it will be up to this year’s junior class to carry the team next season.
“We still have a lot of veteran guys who will have to step up next season,” Miller said.
Miller will be a senior next fall, as will defensemen Greg Curtiss and Robert Hetrick. Goalie Chad Helgason, who has lead the team to the past two nationals appearances, will also be a senior next season.
Helgason said that the preparation for next season starts now.
“Yeah, we have lost a bunch of great players going in to next season, but we need to begin our preparation to replace them,” Helgason said. “Each year teams have to replace guys, and it is off-season preparation which prepares a team for life without those players.”
Sophomore Daryl Dee echoed Helgason’s sentiments following the loss.
“Every team goes through the same issues every off-season, it is just our responsibility to deal with it,” Dee said.
The team will clear out their lockers in the upcoming weeks, and prepare for off season training, and tryouts in the fall. Dee said that tryouts will be competitive, as there are many new recruits slated to head to Norman in early August.