The O’Connell ice hockey team frustrated Gonzaga with open-ice hits and relentless checking, successfully standing up to the Eagles and disrupting the rhythm of their precise passing style. But after the Knights spent the majority of the second period on the power play without anything to show for it on the scoreboard, it appeared that Gonzaga had absorbed their best shot.
The Knights kept charging, though, forcing in a pair of even strength goals in the third period to secure a 2-2 tie Wednesday afternoon at Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Southeast Washington.
“We like to be physical — it’s fun to come at a team with a lot of hits and try to take them out of their game,” O’Connell senior defenseman Robert Burnham said. “We couldn’t get one on the power play in the second period, but we stuck with the game plan and kept attacking.”
O’Connell senior goaltender Zach Hale missed the game because of an illness, but freshman Jack MacKinnon made 19 saves in his place.
“Jack played great. It’s tough missing Zach, but we’ve got a good defense around him and he was able to keep us in the game today,” Burnham said.
Senior captain Mackie Wheeler opened the scoring for No. 4 Gonzaga (18-8-4) on a breakaway midway through the second period. Freshman Connor Tait doubled the Eagles’ lead when he roofed a puck over MacKinnon on the power play with 15 minutes remaining.
“We try to move pucks fast and get bodies to the net, and they did a good job of slowing us down, getting bodies in the way. They threw a wrench in our plan,” Wheeler said. “We fell off after we scored. It was one of the games where we just weren’t 100 percent in it.”
Junior forward Jason Vogel’s wraparound effort trickled through a crowd of skates and sticks in front of the net to cross the goal line for O’Connell (9-5-3) and spark the comeback effort with 10 minutes remaining. Less than three minutes later, senior forward Matt Klein’s shot met goaltender Jack Heerink’s stick and looped over the sophomore to tie the game.
“They weren’t pretty goals, but no complaints,” Burnham said. “Gonzaga is one of the area’s best teams, so you have to take what you can get when we come to play them.”