But there the Bears were - standing across from Michigan State in their first game. Two hours later, the familiar sight of Ohio State scarlet and gray replaced the green and white.
Yes, the three-game tournament during the weekend at the Central Ohio Roller Hockey rink was definitely a learning experience, but by Sunday morning, SSU had learned one thing - what it felt like to win.
After losing to the Spartans' B team 9-0, followed by a 6-2 loss to the Buckeyes, Shawnee State knocked of AMC rival Tiffin 13-0 in the early game on Sunday to notch the team's first-ever win. Needless to say, it was a momentous occasion for the Bears.
“This was just an amazing feeling, like when we scored out first-ever goal (in an exhibition against Miami),” said SSU Captain Casey Todt. “It didn't hit me until I checked online and it showed the all-time series and it said, ‘Shawnee leads 1-0.' It was a little thing, but it was cool.”
The Bears put on a scoring clinic against Tiffin, getting five goals in the first period and four in the second and third. Josh Sammons had four goals and Caleb Sammons had two. Todt also put in two, as did Steven Kelly and Aaron Lewandowski. Casey Qualls tallied one.
Goalie Matt Payton even logged a point, assisting Josh Sammons on the final goal of the game.
“All along, we're making steps. Every game, we want to improve,” Todt said. “We knew, after the Ohio State game, that we were improving and heading in the right direction.”
The Bears definitely showed quick improvement against Ohio State in the team's second game of the day. After losing to Michigan State earlier in the day, the Bears came out aggressive, attacking the net and keeping play on Ohio State's side of the rink. SSU outshot OSU 10-9 in the period.
“There was a big difference (between the MSU and OSU games),” SSU coach Scott Fraley said. “The first game, I felt we just didn't know what to expect and we faced a very respected team. But then we got used to that and we settled down (in the second game.)”
The Bears could not score, but kept the Buckeyes scoreless - the first accomplishment of the young team.
Then came the second.
With OSU ahead 2-0, the Bears again had a flurry in front of the Buckeyes' net. A rebound went out to Daniel Hanks, who fired a wrist shot from the right side. The puck found the back of the net and Shawnee State had its first official goal.
“It felt really good,” Hanks said. “We were playing Ohio State, but we were pretty evenly matched with them. Every time we'd go to the boards, our coach was telling us to keep taking shots. That was our problem in the beginning. We were standing around, we weren't taking shots. We were passing well, so as soon as I got it, I threw it at the net.”
The small crowd donning blue erupted and the excitement of the score energized the Bears, who kept pressing. The team had a chance to tie the game on a power play, but, with six seconds left in the man advantage, the Spartans' Michael Lux stole the puck, skated in on the right side, and scored to put OSU back up two.
In the third period, fatigue began to take its toll on SSU as Ohio State tacked on three more goals to make it a 6-1 lead.
The Bears would get the final goal, however, as Lewandowski fired a shot from the left side that was deflected in by Todt for a 6-2 final. Though it was a loss, the Bears felt anything but defeated.
“I was definitely a different adjustment because these are high-powered, Division I teams,” Lewandowski said. “It was definitely a challenge. The only difference between our team and their team is that they've been playing together for a lot longer, where we've only had a couple of practices and practice a little bit at a time.”
Payton, who saw a barrage of shots throughout the day, made 36 saves in the game.
“When you play teams like that, you know they're going to come out shooting a lot,” Payton said. “They work the puck a lot, so you just have to be ready. All in all, I think it was a good effort.”
Although the OSU game gave Shawnee State confidence, the first-ever conference game for the Bears did not start out the way they wanted. The Spartans took a 5-0 lead after one period. MSU's Eric Byrnes scored twice in the period, the second coming after Shawnee's best chance to get on the board with a scrum in front of the net.
The Spartans had a definite numbers advantage, but as the game wore on, the Bears' defense tightened up, though the team was tired. By the third period, the Spartans could only get one goal in.
“After about five minutes (into the game) something clicked and I made some adjustments and it kept working out,” Payton said.
The Bears would also drop an exhibition game to the same Spartan squad 11-2 in the nightcap. Todt said the second match with MSU was much more physical as the team was banged up and bruised. But Sunday, the Bears weren't hurting at all as the final buzzer sounded against Tiffin.
“A lot of teams end up 0-15, 0-16 on the season,” Todt said. “We made sure that, in our first year, we weren't going to do that. We made a good step in the right direction to get respect from the league. I think we did that this weekend.”
JEFF TAEPKE can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 242.