Hockey wins two over Central Oklahoma

Hockey wins two over Central Oklahoma

By Jason Grodsky

American Collegiate Hockey Association newcomer Central Oklahoma proved to be the Illinois men’s hockey team’s first true test of the season as the Bronchos pushed the Illini to the edge in the pair of games on Friday and Saturday night.

The ACHA’s No. 3-ranked Illini (6-0) squeaked by the unranked Bronchos (2-4) 4-2 on Friday night and proved they were the better team with a 7-2 win on Saturday at the University of Illinois Ice Arena.

“We have to come with more intensity and play more as a team,” senior forward and assistant captain Marshall Chubirka said. “I think last weekend beating St. Louis as badly as we did kind of took some edge away from our team. Anytime you beat a team that badly and score 22 goals you kind of get a big head and now we have to fix that problem.”

After jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the first period of Friday night’s contest, courtesy of two power play goals by freshman forward Matt Jennings and junior forward Drew Heredia, the Illini struggled to find the rhythm on offense the rest of the game.

While their offense struggled with Central Oklahoma’s constant pressure, the Illini’s penalty kill proved to be the key to the game. In the second period alone the Illini killed two 5-on-3 Central Oklahoma power plays.

“The penalty kill came up big for us,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “We were really able to step up at key times when we needed it.”

The Bronchos finally broke through the Illini barrier just 38 seconds into the third period to pull within one goal. Another 5-on-3 power play chance for the Bronchos five minutes into the third period would prove costly for the Illini as Central Oklahoma would poke home a rebound in front of the net to tie the game at 2-2.

With most of the crowd at the arena on its feet Illinois would bounce back and put an end to the Bronchos’ third period rally. With just over 11 minutes left in the game, Chubirka broke free and fired a shot over Bronchos’ goaltender Rob Mattison’s shoulder to give the Illini the lead.

“Our line was working hard all night and it finally paid off,” Chubirka said.

Illinois would hold off the Bronchos and put the game away with less than two minutes remaining, thanks to junior defenseman Pat Mannina’s goal to go on to win 4-2.

“Winners find a way to win at all cost,” junior forward Kevin Wicklin said. “That’s what we are going to need to do down the road later in the season.”

Central Oklahoma played the Illini tough in the first period but was unable to hold off the Illini offensive attack in the second period. Illinois tallied four goals in the second period, including a short-handed goal by Chubirka and a power play goal by sophomore forward Jason Nemeth.

Illini junior forward Nick Fabbrini would put the game out of reach in the third period, scoring twice to give Illinois a 7-2 win. Fabbrini led the way for the Illini on Friday night with two goals and one assist.