Illini hockey gets mauled by the Bobcats

Illini hockey gets mauled by the Bobcats

By Alex Paull

A weekend visit to a hated rival produced familiar results for the Illini hockey team.

Ohio University squeaked by Illinois (22-6) with a pair of wins by scores of 6-5 and 4-3 on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

While playing at Ohio hasn’t been an easy task for the No. 3 Illini the past few seasons, previous Illini teams also hadn’t had the opportunity to play a rebuilding Ohio team that has 15 freshmen and a record struggling to stay above .500.

When finally presented with the opportunity, the streaking Illini reverted to the old, inconsistent Illini, failing to close out games and struggling to capitalize on opportunities.

This weekend Illinois gave up the tying goal with under a minute to go in Friday’s game before losing in overtime and only converted 1 of 9 power play chances on Saturday.

“It was disappointing, we really came in there thinking we could win a couple games,” captain Jordan Pringle said. “Friday night the bounces weren’t going our way, with three of their goals going off of our players. Saturday, it was bad penalties, and we couldn’t claw our way back into the game.”

The losses were particularly hard to swallow for seniors like Pringle.

With Pringle headlining five Illinois players heading to the World University Games, which take place from Feb. 19-28 in Harbin, China, being swept was not the note on which the senior and others wanted to leave.

“As a senior and never winning there before, and also being gone for the next three weekends, this was definitely not the way we wanted to go out,” Pringle added.

“Hopefully it will serve as more motivation and get guys going. It’s just really frustrating and disappointing.”

Although bad bounces and penalties will happen, being without its captain and other staples to the scoring attack – including Brad Hoelzer, JJ Heredia and Johnny Liang – is something the rest of the team will have to grow accustomed to in a hurry.

If their absences can provide anything, it’ll be the opportunity for the team to regroup and get other players into the action down the stretch.

“While we’re gone, it will be important for some of the guys who don’t have as big a role to step up,” Pringle said. “We really need some secondary scoring. When you go to nationals, and it’s one and done, you can’t always rely on the same guys to score. We are going to need more of a complete effort in the coming weeks.”

That complete effort will be needed for next weekend’s series when No. 1 Lindenwood comes to town. The sweep the Illini suffered earlier this season at Lindenwood should provide all the motivation needed for the rest of the guys to step up.

“The underclassmen need to come together and play hard,” sophomore defenseman Robby Shintani said. “Much of our season has been characterized as inconsistent, with us playing hard one period and taking another period off. With these guys leaving, we can’t do that anymore. Against Lindenwood, we kind of got a chip on our shoulder, to prove that we are good when these guys are gone.”

Though the next few weekends will be a tough stretch for the Illini, the season is not lost.

The players leaving for Harbin will be back and ready to help the team come tournament time.

“Guys are still excited about the tournaments coming up,” Pringle said.

“We’ll be back for the national tournament, and that’s the big one. If you can just put four good games together, you’re national champions.”