Hockey dominates weekend at home

By Wes Anderson

After narrowly defeating the Spartans last week, the Illinois hockey club was through with dramatics.

In a battle of undefeated squads, the No. 2 Illini dominated Central Oklahoma, winning 7-0 and 4-0 on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Junior forward Jordan Pringle scored four goals on the weekend, while sophomore goaltenders Mike Burda and DJ Kohler combined to send the No. 19 Bronchos packing without a goal.

There were some concerns about Illinois’ inexperienced defense after allowing six goals to Michigan State in the season-opening series, however, the Illini (4-0-0) seemed to find their stride in the second series of the year, shutting out a normally potent Broncho offense.

“We made big improvements this week in practice defensively, and it showed this weekend,” head coach Chad Cassel said.

Central Oklahoma (4-2-0) was averaging nearly six goals a game through its first four games, which included a sweep of then No. 19-ranked Robert Morris. At the University Ice Arena, though, the Illini defense would not be broken.

“It’s a great confidence booster for me,” said Kohler, who was in goal for game two of the series. “It’s good to get out there and follow up Mike’s shutout.”

The Illinois offense supported Burda’s and Kohler’s efforts by keeping the pressure squarely on the Broncho goaltenders throughout the series. On Friday the Illini scored a powerplay goal in each of the first two periods before exploding for five goals in the third, including team captain and senior forward Drew Heredia’s first goal of the season.

It was more of the same on Saturday, when junior forward Johnny Liang scored just over a minute into the second period. Illinois would tack on three more goals, including Pringle’s team-leading sixth of the season. For the series, the orange and blue outshot the visitors 77-39.

The series certainly showcased the depth of the Illini offense. In four games so far, nine players have found the net while 14 have earned assists.

“It makes it a lot tougher on other teams to try to stop us when really anybody can hurt you offensively,” Pringle said.

Cassel credited the steadiness of the Illinois attack.

“We have balance on all four lines,” Cassel said. “They can’t focus on one line and try to shut that line down.”

The Illini will look to continue their impressive play this week, as the top-ranked Penn State Nittany Lion Icers come to Champaign in what should be a classic No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown. Cassel said the Illini would likely continue to alternate goaltenders for each game as both Burda and Kohler vie for the starting job.

“Mike and I have a great competition going,” Kohler said. “I definitely feed off of it.”