Shutout motivates hockey’s offense to step up, score

Members of the Illinois hockey club react to a call by the referee during the match against Lindenwood University at the Ice Arena on Feb. 13. The Illini lost 4-1 and 4-0 to Lindenwood over the weekend and are preparing to face Iowa State. Erica Magda

Johnny Chiang

Members of the Illinois hockey club react to a call by the referee during the match against Lindenwood University at the Ice Arena on Feb. 13. The Illini lost 4-1 and 4-0 to Lindenwood over the weekend and are preparing to face Iowa State. Erica Magda

By Alex Paull

As brutal as this winter has been, it seemed unimaginable that the cold could carry over into the hockey team’s play. But it has done just that.

With a four game losing streak and counting, the Illini (22-8) have been making all the wrong kinds of history. On top of being shutout at home for the first time in 10 years, the sweep the Illini suffered at the hands of the Lindenwood Lions was their first home losses in 55 games.

As bad as the results were against Lindenwood, things couldn’t get any worse.

With the Iowa State Cyclones, the team tied at No. 4 with the Illini, coming to town, the retooled Illinois squad knows what to expect against a top-flight opponent.

“There is no doubt nerves played a factor,” head coach Chad Cassel said.

“A lot of guys are playing roles they haven’t done all year. It’s going to be a little of an adjustment period, but we don’t have much time, so they are going to have to play well this weekend.”

First order of business for the Illini will be to light a fire under their cold scoring attack. During their four-game losing streak, the Illini have virtually given up twice as many goals as they have scored, squeezing out only one goal in the Lindenwood series during the process.

“I should have stepped up and scored some goals last weekend,” interim captain Jason Nemeth said.

“Being an older guy, I need to step up and show the younger guys how to put the puck in the back of the net.”

What could help get the scorers rolling is not having to worry about the outcomes of the game.

While games should never be viewed as meaningless, working out the kinks in their offensive attack this weekend could go a long way for the tournaments ahead, especially with the conference title out of reach,.

“I go into every game thinking that I can play with anyone out there and produce offensively,” freshman Sam Fatigato said. “Especially this weekend, we need to create more opportunities and bury those chances.”

Conference title or not, the team needs to finish their regular season strong, not just for the faithful fans that pack the “Big Pond” every home game but also to land the best possible seed for the national tournament.

“It’s huge for us in the rankings for going to nationals,” Nemeth said. “We’ve lost four in a row, so we need to get back to the winning ways that we’re used to, especially at home.”

The team sees the writing on the walls and needs to light that fire under the offensive attack. Now, it’s a matter of who is going to bring the matches.