Hockey club slaps on two more wins



By Wes Anderson

The Illinois hockey club opened its conference schedule the right way on Homecoming Weekend, surviving two tense games to sweep the dangerous Lindenwood Lions.

Coming off a shootout victory against the Lions on the road, the Illini improved their perfect record to 9-0-0 with two more wins by scores of 3-2 on Friday and 4-3 on Saturday. The victories earned the Illini eight points for the Central States Collegiate Hockey League standings.

“It was great to finally play games for conference and get eight points right away,” said goaltender Mike Burda, who made both starts in the series.

Power plays were crucial in establishing momentum throughout the weekend, as nine of the 12 goals scored in the series by both sides came after a penalty.

The Illini preserved one-goal leads late in both games thanks in part to some clutch penalty killing. On Friday, Illinois survived a five-on-three disadvantage and a late power play in the third period to keep a slim advantage to the final buzzer.

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    Lion power plays were again denied success in the series finale on Saturday. After the Illini scored twice early in the final period to take a 4-3 lead, they foiled the Lions’ bid to score a tying goal over the final 15 minutes of the game.

    “We had to play as a four-man unit, always talking, always (with our) heads up,” defenseman Ricky Gomez said of the Illini’s penalty killing. “It’s just making sure that you’re in the right position and that you have your teammate’s back.

    Goaltender D.J. Kohler was out for disciplinary reasons, head coach Chad Cassel said, opening the door for Burda to play Friday and Saturday. It was the first time the sophomore made consecutive starts all season, and he responded with solid play, including an impressive save on a Lindenwood breakaway to deny what would have been a game-tying goal in the series finale.

    “You always have to think that a goalie’s got to make one huge save to expect to win,” Burda said.

    The slim margins of victory showcased the talent of the Lions, who are sixth in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s rankings.

    “It was a struggle for us once again,” Cassel said. “We really only played two good periods of hockey all weekend.”

    Cassel added that the Illini are “really banged up right now” and will need to step up as conference play continues on the road next week against No. 21 Eastern Michigan.

    “We have to adjust and hopefully we’ll play better this weekend,” Cassel said.