Clash against Minnesota disappoints Coach Cassel

Three weeks ago, Illini hockey head coach Chad Cassel called his defense the strength of his team. After Saturday night’s 5-4 win against Minnesota, Cassel had a different take on his team’s defense play, describing it with just one word — “terrible.”

“Hopefully we’ve learned from it, that we’re not good enough to just go through the motions and expect to win,” Cassel said. “Not to take too much away from Minnesota, but I feel like we’re a much better team than they are, and we played at their level tonight. If we were playing Ohio or Iowa State we would have gotten waxed out there.”

After an 8-1 rout of Minnesota on Friday night, the Illini looked as if they might verify Cassel’s strong preseason sentiments about the strength of his defense. The defense closed in quickly on Minnesota’s slower forwards, dispatching the puck out of the Illinois zone quickly and effectively.

“We thought naturally we were going to walk all over them after an 8-1 win,” freshman Eddie Quagliata said. “We got a reality check. We were ready to play yesterday (Friday), but tonight (Saturday) we thought we were going to come out and walk all over them, and it didn’t happen.”

Entering the weekend, Cassel was hoping for a strong defensive response to last weekend’s inconsistent play against Michigan State, when the Illini never held a consistent effort through all three periods.

Captain Tim Gilbert attributes the breakdowns to early season flaws that will get worked out once the Illini have time to mesh with their 16 new players.

“There was no communication out there between goalie and defenseman and defenseman and defenseman,” Gilbert said. “It’s still young in the season; we’re still getting used to playing with each other. There were way too many scoring chances they shouldn’t have had.”

Despite the defensive lapse Saturday night, Illinois outshot Minnesota 83-41 on the weekend and completed 7-of-15 power plays.

“I’ve been happy with our power play all year,” Cassel said. “Obviously with 16 new players it took a while, but we’re moving the puck well. I’m happy with it.”

While Cassel is still playing with his lines, he seems content with the way his forwards have played together.

“I think we have four solid lines,” Cassel said. “But we still need to play more consistently and put out a better effort.”

The Illini have their first road game next week and will be focusing on fixing their defense in practice this week.

“We broke down a lot, and the decision making was not there,” defenseman Justin Wirt said. “We’re going to move on, have a good week of practice and pack it up next week.”