Hockey faces unexpected opponent, defeats Ferris State 8-0

When Illinois hockey head coach Chad Cassel woke up on Thursday morning, he had no idea who the Illini would be playing on Saturday.

“It was definitely one of the most interesting weeks in the 14 years I’ve been doing this,” Cassel said, “We basically had two teams cancel on us. We’ve never had that happen before. We’ve been scrambling all week to find an opponent. Fortunately, Ferris State was able to play us (Saturday).”

Illinois was originally scheduled to play Purdue, but the Boilermakers canceled the series, and rescheduling efforts with Lewis University and Robert Morris Peoria fell apart.

“It was a little weird but I knew that we’d probably find someone,” freshman goaltender Nick Clarke said, “I was ready no matter what.”

The Bulldogs entered Saturday’s contest with a 5-17 record in ACHA Division II. While Cassel said Ferris State was not on par with the level of competition the No. 13 Illini will see over the next two weeks when they play No. 20 Kent State and No. 9 Oklahoma, it was important for Illinois to squeeze in another game before national tournament bids are released following the series with the Sooners.

“If we took this weekend off we would have come out flat,” junior forward Sam Fatigato said, “We would have been on the road, legs wouldn’t have been there and playing this game (Saturday) is really going to help us this weekend.”

Fatigato had a career night on Saturday. He finished with a hand in five of the goals in the Illini’s 8-0 victory over the Bulldogs. He finished with two scores and three assists.

“I’m just keeping things simple and working hard on the power play,” Fatigato said, “Playing with guys like Daniel Cohen on the power play really helps out because he’s always making things happen … I’m just keeping things simple and getting the puck to the net.”

Special teams was one of the main areas Cassel wanted his team to improve on before the Illini head to Kent State for their first road series since they were swept by Iowa State. The Illini went 3 for 5 on the power play on Saturday after scoring just four of 27 chances since the start of second semester.

“The power play was good tonight,” Cassel said, “I thought the puck movement was good, we can build on that and carry it into Kent. We struggled last weekend against Wisconsin. I thought Ferris was a better team and we had some success tonight.”

In the second period Saturday, the Illini faced what Cassel called a “momentum changer,” when Illinois killed a 5 on 3 Bulldog power play. Cassel credited the stop to Clarke.

“I didn’t get much action in the first but I got a few shots there,” Clarke said, “Our defense is playing great finally so they did a good job in front of me.”

Clarke was thrown out of the game in the third period and replaced by junior goaltender Dan Rooney. Both players joined the roster after the first semester, and the joint effort Saturday marks the first shutout by the two goaltenders.

“Nick played great, he’s a good goalie,” Cassel said, “He’s a competitor. He definitely plays with an edge to his game and we’re excited to see that.”