Hockey’s repeat bid falls short

By Alex Paull

In a rematch of last season’s ACHA championship game, the Illinois hockey team was denied a repeat result, as the Lindenwood Lions returned the favor with a 4-1 win.

On their way to outshooting the Illini 31-15, the Lions disregarded Illinois’ status as defending champs and showed why they were team to beat in the tournament.

“They played well and took it to us most of the game,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “The first two periods especially. They wanted it more than we did, that’s for sure.”

For the third consecutive game, Illini goalie Mike Burda stole the show early on, stopping all 12 shots the Lions rifled at him in the first period, while Illinois only mustered three. But the Lions would take over for good in the second period.

Four of the game’s goals would be scored in the middle period, with two of them coming off the stick of Lindenwood forward Carson Hamill. With the Illini down 1-0, captain Jordan Pringle scored six minutes into the period, momentarily tying the game and giving the Illini hope that they would turn the tables on the Lions.

“I was hoping the game would turn,” Pringle said about his goal. “Even though the score didn’t show it, we were really getting outshot. I was hoping that the goal was going to get (us) going, but unfortunately they answered right back and that was the turning point.”

Heading into the third period down 3-1, Coach Cassel and the seniors tried to use their magic touch one last time to wake up the Illini offense. Unfortunately, this time the players would not answer the bell.

“I told them you have twenty minutes left in your season, and you need to leave it all on the ice,” Pringle said. “Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen.”

With only seven shots in the third period, the Illini players watched as Lindenwood kept up the pressure on Burda and company, netting a fourth goal with under eight minutes left to officially put an end to Illinois’ reign as champions.

“I would have liked a little bit more out of myself, but you could see the team was getting a little worn down,” Burda said. “I thought I made some good saves, but definitely wished I had done better.”

The loss was even harder to swallow for the seniors. Playing their last game in the orange and blue, the seniors were forced to watch their great season culminate with a tough loss in the championship.

“It’s tough, especially being my senior year,” Pringle said. “I love these guys and love playing with them. We have come so far as a team this year, and being the captain gave me a different perspective. We want to go out with a win, with the five seniors on the team, so I’m really bummed out.”

Despite the loss, the players proved doubters wrong and exceeded the expectations placed on them. In the eyes of the coaching staff, the season was anything but a disappointment and a nice first glance at the future of the club.

“Overall, I am very proud of my team this season,” Cassel said. “We have thirteen new players and they came a long way. I am excited moving forward with the group we have.”