Hockey splits at Iowa State, loses Jennings to wrist injury

While the Illinois hockey team has found ways to win despite a tendency of starting games off slow, coming from behind finally came back to haunt the Illini this weekend.

After erasing a 1-0 deficit to Iowa State (9-5, 1-5 CSCHL) to win Friday’s game 3-2, Illinois (9-3, 3-3) couldn’t climb out of a 3-0 deficit Saturday, losing 4-1.

“I don’t know what it is,” forward Tim Gilbert said of the slow starts. “Everyone seems ready in the locker room, but it’s just been like this so far this season. We have been able to get by with it until Saturday.”

Needing strong efforts from the whole team over the weekend, the Illini answered the call Friday.

Propelled by another stellar outing by goalie DJ Kohler, who recorded 33 saves in the win, the Illini stayed disciplined on defense while the scoring attack capitalized on key opportunities, despite being outshot 35-22 in the game.

Illinois did all of its damage in the second period, with defenseman Brad Hoelzer picking up two points, including a goal that was sandwiched between forwards Matt Jennings and Tom Connell’s power-play goals. The power-play unit finished 2-for-5 on the night.

“Friday was a good effort, started slow, but got it going in second period,” said forward JJ Heredia, who had an assist in the game. “We finished strong for the victory.”

Saturday’s game proved to be just the opposite. With Illinois falling behind 1-0 with just four seconds left in the first period, it would be the Cyclones who would put the game out of reach, going up 3-0 just less than five minutes into the second period.

It wasn’t until halfway through the third period that the Illini would solve Cyclones goalie Erik Hudson. Hoelzer picked up his second goal of the weekend, converting on the Illini’s fifth and final power-play chance.

Illini goalie Mike Burda had his hands full all night as he battled to keep his team in the game. Despite being the stabilizing force for Illinois, Burda was pulled with roughly five minutes left in the hopes of sparking the offense. Despite having a 6-on-3 advantage at one point, the efforts were to no avail.

“The effort wasn’t there,” Heredia said. “As a whole, we didn’t have it. Burda played well Saturday, but we just didn’t give him any help. He did his part, but we didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.”

Adding to the weight of the loss was a fractured wrist to Jennings, who will miss at least two weeks.

“He’s a big part of the unit, and we kind of scrambled to replace him,” Heredia said. “We got to push through, but it would have helped to have had him.”

While the split may have kept the Cyclones from picking up ground on the Illini in the CSCHL standings, it did, however, open the door for Western Michigan to pull even with Illinois as the league looks to catch No. 1 Lindenwood.

“We know we are a better team than Iowa State, we saw that Friday,” Butler said. “We need to understand we’re not going to win every game because we are Illinois. We really needed the points this weekend, but we lacked focus and discipline. There is not enough games to throw away against teams we know we can beat.”