By Joseph Hughes
It's getting cluttered in the rafters at Bird Arena, home of the Ohio hockey team.
For the fourth time, and the first since three consecutive seasons in the mid-'90s, the icers will hang another American Collegiate Hockey Association national championship banner. Dan Morris' squad, which began the season with a 4-5 record, defeated defending ACHA champion Penn State 5-4 for the title - and a 32-7-2 final mark.
After winning the Central States Collegiate Hockey League title, Ohio began its quest for a fourth ACHA crown by defeating tournament newcomer Arizona State 4-1. It took two overtimes to decide the Bobcats' next game, a 2-1 victory over Weber State. Following a 2-0 win over Rhode Island, all that stood in the way of erasing last season's 4-0 ACHA title game loss was Penn State – the team that shutout Ohio on its home ice one year earlier.
"You couldn't ask for a better game than this," Morris – himself a two-time ACHA First-Team All-American and member of Ohio's three-time champions – told The Post. "It was the two best teams playing, and when we got this far we wanted to play against the champions. You don't want questions about who you played along the way."
Trailing 2-1 to a Penn State squad that had outscored its tournament opponents 29-3, the Bobcats hoped to turn things around in the third and final period. Brandon Hanley – one of five Bobcats to score a goal in the championship contest – tied the game 2-2 on a power play. Defender Joe Branco's slapshot untied things, giving Ohio its first lead. A goal by Athens native Daniel Richardson extended the Bobcat lead to 4-2 less than a minute later.
A spirited charge by Penn State retied the game 4-4 within five minutes. However, with less than three minutes remaining, Tony Arkelpaine sent a pass past the Penn State goalie for a 5-4 lead. As time expired, the Bobcats took to the Ames, Iowa, ice in celebration.
"It's just a feeling of pure joy," said center Frank Kubas, reacting to Arkeilpane's game winner in The Post. "We worked so hard all season, and it's just a feeling of pure satisfaction. In the last game of my career, I can go out knowing that we did all that we could have done."
In a storybook season, Ohio finished as CSCHL regular-season and tournament champions, to go along with the ACHA national crown. Kubas was named the ACHA tournament's most valuable player. Travis Preble, Mike Barger and Brian Gallagher made the tournament's first team, while Branco earned second-team honors.
Said Gallagher, who worked the full 60 minutes in goal for the championship game, "Today is the best day of my life. My whole life I've worked at this and played hockey for this moment. This championship belongs to every Ohio student. We want everybody to have it because everyone has done so much to support us. We get the ring from this, but everybody here can share the trophy. That should be the headline in all the papers – 'All Ohio wins a national championship.'"
Joseph Hughes is a writer for University Communications and Marketing.