The Sooners entered their final weekend before Thanksgiving having just ended a seven-game losing streak. The team that awaited them last weekend was the very same team that beat them twice earlier in the season: The Colorado Buffaloes. The Sooners would claim back-to-back wins to enter the holiday on a high note.
It wasn’t a series for the faint of heart, as both games would end in shootouts. Oklahoma played their most complete and consistent games that we’ve been able to see at Blazers Ice Centre so far this season.
Friday night would see the Sooners respond to two separate one-goal deficits in the second period. Responding after Colorado goals would be a recurring theme of the weekend. Nate Pane and Brady Nelson both scored their second goals of the season on Friday night. Nelson has scored two goals for the Sooners since returning to the team against Alabama after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason. The shootout on Friday night would see Pane scoring the game winner for Oklahoma, with Brendan Culbertson-Bond blanking all three Colorado shooters he faced.
On Saturday night, the Sooners committed five penalties in the second period, giving Colorado ample opportunity to pull ahead, including a one minute and forty-five second long 5-on-3. The OU penalty kill performed admirably and Colorado would not capitalize on any of their power plays after the first period.
Head coach Austin Miller was in a noticeably better mood after the second game on Saturday night after his penalty kill unit successfully fended off eight of nine Colorado power plays.
“They got that one in the first period,” said Miller. “But after that we locked it down and killed eight straight.”
On the other side of their special teams, OU’s power play unit scored once on seven total opportunities, but that one goal was a big one as it tied the game at 3-3 with less than 10 minutes in regulation, courtesy of defenseman Cameron Bickford. The goal was a cannon of a shot from the point, with forward Carson Bassett screening Colorado goaltender Liam O'Gwen. Bickford has been a rock for the Sooners this season, as he appears on the power play, penalty kill and is OU’s top right defenseman. After being given the captaincy, he has shown that he deserved it.
When asked about the game-tying goal, Bickford was all business.
“I saw I had a wide-open lane,” said Bickford. “Both of their forwards were spread out, and we had someone in front of the net screening the goalie really well. I was just trying to get that shot on net.”
The Sooners and Buffaloes would go into a shootout after Bickford’s clutch goal, and the Buffaloes would be blanked in the shootout by Culbertson-Bond for the second time in as many nights. The self-described “shootout specialist” Culbertson-Bond was well protected by his teammates all weekend long. It seemed that any time a Colorado player go too close, an Oklahoma player was there to set him straight.
“We’ve grown a lot defensively since we started this year,” said Culbertson-Bond. “It’s nice to see that everything is starting to come together before the semester comes to a close.”
In the shootout on Saturday night, Nate Pane and Brenden Sinclair were both stopped cold by O’Gwen. Zach Pard had a chance to win the game on his stick in the third round of the shootout. He delivered with a shot through O’Gwen’s five hole, giving the Sooners their first series sweep of the season.
He knew what he was doing with the puck the whole way there.
“Two shooters tried to go glove and he didn’t really move or do anything,” said Pard. “I knew he was just going to stand there, and I thought he’d gown down pretty easy and open it up.”
After so much frustration through the first two months of the season, Oklahoma finally has some momentum going into December. Now 6-8-1, the Sooners will have a break this week for Thanksgiving and will return to action on Thursday, December 2nd at 7:30 p.m. CST against Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
As always, catch all home games on Black Dog Hockey at bdehockey.com.