Illinois men’s club hockey team loses twice to Ohio University Bobcats

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois men’s hockey team has yet to figure out how to beat the Ohio University on the road.

The Bobcats defeated the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s No. 1-ranked Illini 3-2 and 3-0 on Friday and Saturday night in Athens, Ohio, to improve their record to 12-0-1 against the Illini in Athens, since Ohio joined the Central States Collegiate Hockey League in 1993. The two wins for No. 3-ranked Ohio also allowed the Bobcats to clinch the CSCHL regular season title for the fourth consecutive season.

Illinois needed just one win over the weekend to have a shot at dethroning the Bobcats, but the Illini were unable to figure out Ohio senior goaltender Ryan Baksh. scoring just twice the entire weekend.

“We struggled scoring goals all weekend,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “We worked hard and out-shot them in both games and out-played them in both games. Their goaltender was just outstanding and we let in some soft goals, which was the difference.”

In the first game of the weekend, Illinois found itself down early. Ohio scored just 3:15 into the first period and added another goal 43 seconds later to take a 2-0 lead.

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Illinois struck back to cut the lead in half when junior forward Alex Park buried the puck into the back of the net for a power-play goal assisted by freshman defenseman Pierce Butler and sophomore forward Jason Nemeth. Park’s goal was his team-leading 19th goal of the season.

But Ohio extended its lead back to two goals with a power-play goal of its own in the second period.

Trailing 3-1 with under five minutes left to play in the game, Illinois would pull within a goal when freshman forward J.J Heredia scored on the power play with an assist from fellow freshman Matt Jennings.

Despite the two power-play goals by the Illini, they were unable to complete the comeback before the end of the game, falling 3-2.

“I thought our penalty kill was good and our power play was outstanding,” Cassel said. “We just couldn’t finish and find the back of the net.”

On Saturday night, the Illini came out looking for revenge, but Ohio once again got the upper hand early, scoring just five minutes into the first period.

The Bobcats would extend their lead to 3-0 with a power-play goal followed by another goal with just 25 seconds remaining in the second period.

Despite being on multiple five-on-three power plays, the Illini were unable to solve Baksh for the second consecutive night. Baksh stopped all 26 shots in the game and handed Illinois its first shutout loss since March 4, 2006, when the Illini were defeated 1-0 by Penn State in the semifinals of the ACHA National Tournament.

“Saturday night was one of the best goaltending performances I’ve ever seen,” Cassel said. “No matter what we did, he was able to make the save. We had breakaways and backdoor looks but he was very focused and played outstanding. He won both games for them this weekend. There’s no doubt about that.”

Illinois is now tied for second-place in the CSCHL with Lindenwood University with 48 points in the league and a 12-4 conference record. Illinois can clinch the second seed in the CSCHL tournament with one win over Robert Morris College at home next weekend.