Hockey team moves on after crushing defeat

By Tony Donisch

It’s been nearly two years since the Illini have had to prepare for an opponent after suffering a loss.

The players are still trying to forget the image of the 6-4 score as the final seconds ticked off the Artic Edge Arena scoreboard at Central Oklahoma last weekend, signaling the team’s first loss in 48 games.

“Obviously we spent some time talking about what took place last weekend, and hopefully our guys learned from it and move on,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “But it’s been business as usual this week in practice.”

There won’t be any time for the team to dwell on last weekend’s mistakes because it jumps right back into league play against an in-state foe. Illinois (9-1-0, CSCHL 2-0-0) welcomes CSCHL No. 18 Robert Morris College (5-5-1, 0-0-0) for a two-game set starting Friday night.

Illinois accounted for three of Robert Morris’ losses last season, beating the Eagles twice in the regular season, by scores of 6-1 and 5-2, as well as a 10-0 victory in the first round of the league tournament.

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The Eagles fly into town after a roller coaster start. Robert Morris followed up a run of four straight wins with just one in its last seven games, but the road hasn’t been all that easy. Illinois is the fourth top-10 opponent Robert Morris has played during the young season.

The unfamiliar feeling of defeat may have a silver lining, though. It acted as a wake-up call to the team that could help in the series this weekend.

“A lot of guys just thought that we could show up and we’d win just because that’s what we’ve done for a season and a half, but you’ve got to put in the work, and you’ve got to do all the little things,” senior captain Jordan Pringle said. “You’ve got to have effort and that’s how you win games. So I think that was kind of forgotten, but I just think when winning’s expected you don’t do all the things you need to, to win the game.”

Both the players and Cassel stressed the importance of everyone playing their part for this weekend, something that was demonstrated throughout the first eight games but went out the door last weekend.

“We got some great individual efforts from some of our best players, but the majority of the team didn’t work hard and we made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes,” Cassel said. “I just think that it goes to show that we need everyone working hard and on the same page if we have success. We can’t just show up and go through the motions and expect a couple of players to carry the team.”

Starting with Friday night’s game on the familiar ice of the “Big Pond,” the Illini begin a stretch of 10 straight league games, all without the added pressure of upholding an unprecedented achievement.

“Honestly, it is kind of nice to have it over with.” Pringle said of their old winning streak. “We can stop talking about last year. It’s really about this season now, and I think kind of the longer it went on, the more it would be talked about and more excited teams would be to try to be the team to end the streak. Overall, it will end up being a good thing. We learned a lot from that loss and we can move on.”