Hockey sweeps Ohio State to stay undefeated

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By Tony Donisch

The Illinois hockey team finished off another weekend sweep – but this time the opponent was almost overlooked.

Illinois raised its undefeated record to 8-0-0 after it defeated Ohio State 4-2 on Friday and 10-5 on Saturday.

Leading the team was junior Tom Connell, following up his hat trick against Kent State with another three-goal weekend. Forwards Jason Nemeth, Jordan Pringle and JJ Heredia each pitched in four points in the series sweep.

After Illinois swept a familiar No. 10 Kent State team on the road the week before, the team wasn’t sure what to expect from ACHA Division II Ohio State.

“We hadn’t played them ever,” forward Jordan Pringle said. “After their two losses, some guys took them lightly (Friday night). It’s tough. It was going in blind and it showed Friday.”

Last weekend Ohio State was swept after it allowed 18 goals in the two losses, but that was easily forgotten as they skated onto the ice of the “Big Pond”, not intimidated by the No. 1 team. Forward Bill Fetsko scored a goal in the first 20 seconds, which marked the first time this season the Illini have trailed.

“We’re the top team,” Nemeth said. “Everybody coming in is going to try and take us down. They gave us as much as we can handle.”

Friday’s game was close down to the final seconds after Ohio State pulled their goaltender. Illinois’ D.J. Kohler stopped a flurry of shot attempts, and the puck was eventually cleared into the open Buckeye net by Tom Connell with three seconds left which ended the game.

The Illini spent the majority of time around the Buckeyes’ net, as they exceeded their 49 shot average with 60 and 59 in the two games.

“The number of shots were close,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “It could have very easily been the same type of game Friday if we were finishing but we weren’t.”

Ohio State goaltender Dru Delaforet had 56 saves and was the main reason that the Illini players weren’t able to find the net often on Friday.

“It was very frustrating,” Pringle said. “He made some great saves. You’re glad to get those out of the way with a win.”

However, the Illini got to him early Saturday, scoring eight goals before the second period was over.

The opposing goaltender has continually slowed down the Illini’s high-powered offense in the first game, only for the pucks to find their way in the next day.

“At times I feel we make the other teams goalies look better than they are,” Cassel said.

Even though the Illini increased their winning streak to 46 games with the two wins, there was still a flaw Ohio State wasn’t able to capitalize on. This leaves Coach Cassel worried for upcoming games against tougher opponents.

“We were taking some bad penalties,” Cassel said. “It didn’t cost us this weekend, but against good teams it would.”