Illini hockey sweeps Minnesota, starts season 4-0

The Illini hockey coaching staff may not have been happy with its team’s defense last weekend when Illinois swept Minnesota, but it was hard to argue with the progression of the offense, outshooting the Gophers 78-41 in two games.

“We have four solid lines,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “We just have to play more consistent and put out a better effort.”

While the defense sputtered, the Illini offense was, in fact, consistent, leading the Illini to its sixth straight 4-0 start to a season. Despite Illinois’ undefeated record against Minnesota — 18 wins in 18 total matchups — 13 goals is a strong weekend against any team, even if it takes 78 shots.

Although the Illini struggled to finish their attempts Saturday, they still dominated offensively, outshooting Minnesota 47-28 and winning 31 of 51 faceoffs.

“Faceoffs are all about just reading what the other guy is doing,” forward Eddie Quagliata said. “You might have to get used to him a little bit, but you have to figure them out before they figure you out.”

The weekend was highlighted by Friday night’s eight-goal performance, where seven different Illini found the back of the net.

“(Friday) our team got a lot of production,” captain Tim Gilbert said. “(Saturday) even though it wasn’t pretty, we found a way to win. It’s always a good thing to see, especially early in the season.”

Cassel was insistent that power play still needed work, but Illinois converted 47 percent of opportunities over the weekend, capitalizing on seven of 15 tries.

The Illinois forwards were noticeably faster skaters than Minnesota, beating the Gopher defenders to dumps in their defensive zone with regularity.

“Our team is full of speed, and that’s a big part,” Quagliata said. “When we play some of these slower teams, it’s key that we get the pucks in deep. We have to move our feet at all times because that’s how we create offensive scoring chances. When we’re playing a bigger, slower team, we have to use that to our advantage.”

While the Illini may have had Minnesota beat with their speed, the Gophers were the physically bigger team. Despite the size difference, Illinois was not afraid to initiate physicality, highlighted by Gilbert.

“When teams start coming at us physically, we’ll definitely be able to take a hit,” Gilbert said. “I don’t think we’re going to be intimidated by anyone in our league. Even though we don’t have the biggest guys, we are in really good shape.”

Cassel has been switching up his lines nightly to get a feel for his new players until he finds the right fit.

“I think we’re doing all right; we switched the lines up a little bit,” Gilbert said. “You’re playing with new guys who didn’t dress last night, so we’re slowly getting to see our new guys and what they can or can’t do. I think everything will pan out.”