Illini score early, often against Oakland

Sophomore Tim Gilbert (10) and senior Jordan Pringle (19) fight off Oakland University defensemen to get to the puck at the Ice Arena on Friday. Erica Magda

Sophomore Tim Gilbert (10) and senior Jordan Pringle (19) fight off Oakland University defensemen to get to the puck at the Ice Arena on Friday. Erica Magda

By Tony Donisch

If you were at the Ice Arena on Saturday night, hopefully you didn’t bring an expensive hat … or three.

A trio of Illini registered hat tricks and accounted for 10 of the 12 goals in Saturday’s onslaught against Oakland: Jason Nemeth, Jordan Pringle and Matt Jennings.

Simply put by Pringle, “It was a fun game.”

The Illinois hockey team exacted revenge on an Oakland team that handed the Illini their last loss, two seasons ago in the semifinals of the ACHA National Tournament.

Cementing their status as the top club team in the nation, the Illini turned in impressive performances against the No. 11-ranked Grizzlies in a 6-0 win Friday and a football-like score of 12-3 on Saturday.

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The Harassing Illini in the stands at the “Big Pond” made good use of the phrase, “It’s all your fault.” Their signature chant rained down upon three different Oakland goaltenders in two games, in which the Illini found the back of the net 18 times.

The Illini did all of this despite missing some of their key players. Pierce Butler sat a a one-game suspension due to his disqualification against Michigan State, Jason Nemeth was absent Friday due to a wedding, and J.J. Heredia didn’t see the ice Saturday due to his ejection from the first game.

After not suiting up for Friday’s victory, the All-American Nemeth exploded in Saturday’s game with a hat trick, scoring three goals by the second period and assisting two scores in the first.

Pringle continued his hot start to the season, tallying three assists and five goals on the weekend, including four Saturday.

“It was pretty fun. The pucks kept bouncing my way and finding my stick. Guys were setting me up,” Pringle said.

Jennings started off the scoring Saturday and rounded out the hat tricks. Sophomore Tony Razik had a great weekend as well, notching his first three goals as an Illini.

A problem coaches had after the first series against Michigan State was the “dumb penalties.” After giving up 14 power plays in the opening series, the Illini were only shorthanded seven times last weekend. But the second period Saturday saw a rash of play stoppages and 19 penalties for 76 minutes by both teams.

“We tried to stay out of the after-the-whistle stuff, and we didn’t do that good of a job,” Pringle said.

On the weekend, Oakland University witnessed its goaltending and defensive play picked apart by the Illini, while the school’s Michigan roots caused confusion for some who urged the Grizzlies to “go back to California, you hippies.”

After a slow start to Friday’s game, the Illini took advantage of a couple of early penalties by the Grizzlies with two quick goals in the first five minutes.

“Those two goals got our confidence going,” Pringle said.

The players’ confidence would only grow, as that was just the start of the scoring. The horn went off twice more by the end of the first period and goaltender Mike Burda recorded his second shutout of the season.

“On Friday, we weren’t working very hard at the start,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “(For Saturday) we wanted to get off to a good start, and we did that. We wanted to carry our momentum over.”

The Illini have enjoyed an unprecedented hot start to the season. Pringle couldn’t remember a season in his four years that started like this one.

In their last three wins this season against Michigan State and Oakland, the Illini have scored 26 goals and shut out their opponent twice. “Putting up eight, six and 12 goals is big,” Pringle said. “We’re kind of a team based on offense and it’s clicking. A lot of guys are getting goals and points, and that’s what is needed.”

Another positive on the weekend was the offense’s performance on the power play. After working on it during practice, the results showed in a game where four Illini goals were scored on the man advantage.

“Friday night we had a lot of chances but weren’t finishing,” Cassel said. “We had different personnel, and I thought it went well.”

The Illini (4-0-0) now shift their focus to their first away games in their conference opener next weekend against Kent State.

“Our big wins give us confidence,” Jennings said. “We’re rolling and it feels good right now. Hopefully, we can keep the wins piling up.”