Fights spark Fighting Illini in sweep of Indiana

Brennan Caughron

Brennan Caughron

By Alex Paull

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With all the festivities taking place this weekend for the Illinois hockey squad, being energized to play against Indiana was to be expected. Forty-six penalties and six ejections, however, weren’t.

In what turned out to be a physically brutal series, the Illini (20-4) held their own and got back to their winning ways with a 3-2 and 6-2 victories against the Hoosiers on Friday and Saturday.

With packed crowds on hand for Alumni Weekend, the fans got more than what they bargained for. While the power play still wasn’t sharp, strong attacks and heavy pressure on Indiana was enough to do the trick.

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Hockey beats Hoosiers

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“The power play gets streaky,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “I would be frustrated if we weren’t getting good looks, but it just isn’t happening for us right now. We played well though. We started a little slow Friday, but it was a good effort. The ref wasn’t calling much so that helped with staying out of the box a little.”

Although 46 penalties may suggest that the ref was blowing the whistle all weekend, cheap hits and crucial penalties were at times overlooked. Like a soda being shook, it was only a matter of time before the ignored scuffles were going to explode.

With approximately seven minutes left in Saturday’s game, fights broke out, leading to six players being ejected. Indiana’s Travis Montembeault, Kevin Memolo and Mack Shaughnessy and Illinois’ Jason Nemeth, Johnny Liang and Andrew Cardona were tossed.

“Personally, I would like the refs to control the game better,” captain Jordan Pringle said. “Lot of power plays and penalty kills makes it tough to establish a flow to the game. Then when you get to the end of the game, and you let all that stuff go you get the fights and ejections. So definitely need more of the penalties called.”

Though the players ejected will have to sit out this Friday’s game, the physical play the Illini demonstrated was an encouraging sign that things are turning around.

“I think it gets guys into the game,” Pringle said. “Especially at the end of the game when the win is already wrapped up, it gives the guys who are relaxing to get out there and hit someone to send a message.”

Jason Nemeth, one of the seniors who was vocal about needing to step up to lead the team, knew the importance of the series, especially with the alumni in attendance.

“It was a huge,” Nemeth said. “We had all the alumni there and packed crowds, but I think we put on a good show this weekend.”

With the hoopla behind them, the Illini will look to do more of the same against Iowa this weekend when they host a team they have never faced before.

“We know they have a good team,” Cassel said. “It doesn’t get any easier from here. We need to have a good week of practice to get ready.”

While they may be down three players for Friday’s game, any concerns about being undermanned are nonexistent.

“We are definitely looking at the sweep, but that’s the good thing about our team,” Pringle said. “We have a lot of depth where guys who don’t usually get a lot of time to play, get a taste of the action and play. It will be a fun series.”