Illini hockey swept in weekend series to Lindenwood

This weekend’s series against Lindenwood seemed like a microcosm of the Illini hockey team’s season.

The Illini took costly penalties, lost key players to injury and started different goaltenders each game; yet they entered the third periods of Friday and Saturday night’s games tied with the third-ranked team in the ACHA. But they couldn’t finish either game on top in front of the home crowd.

Lindenwood completed a perfect CSCHL regular season with a two-game sweep of the Illini.

On Friday, Illinois gave up goals in the final minute of all three periods — the difference in the Lions’ 5-2 victory. Illinois battled back from trailing 2-0 Saturday before Lindenwood scored the game-winning goal on a power play in the third period.

Illinois head coach Chad Cassel was not pleased with the number of penalties Illinois took in both games.

“It’s the same old story,” Cassel said. “We continue to take bad penalties, and we cannot take bad penalties against good teams and expect to win.

“It’s one thing to take a penalty to save a goal, the other team from scoring a goal, but we don’t do that. We take penalties in the offense zone. I’ve never seen a team take so many penalties when we’re on the power play — there’s no excuse for it.”

Cassel benched forward John Scully during the second period of Saturday’s game because he thought Scully had taken too many bad penalties.

“I told all the guys, ‘I don’t care who you are. If you continue to take bad penalties in crucial times, you’re done,’” Cassel said.

“You’re going to get undressed and you’re done for the night.”

The injury list continued to grow for the Illini. Freshman forward Derek Schultz exited Friday’s game with an undisclosed injury and did not play Saturday. Michael McBride left Saturday’s game with concussion-like symptoms. Forward Matt Welch was ejected from Saturday’s game for fighting; per ACHA rule he is suspended for the next game, the start of the CSCHL tournament. Cassel said he has no idea when or even if any of the injured players will return.

The Illini did have some bright spots over the weekend. They scored four power play goals during the weekend, including two goals from forward Sam Fatigato on Saturday night.

Cassel praised his goaltending all weekend, though it came from two different players. Dan Rooney started Friday before Cassel went back to Nick Clarke for Saturday’s game.

“Rooney has played great; it has nothing to do with him. Just changing it up,” Cassel said. “We just got to find a way to get out of the box, because our goaltending both nights was outstanding and it was good enough that we should win the game. We let our goaltenders down both nights.”

Clarke said he was excited to finally get his chance to get back into the net after six consecutive starts from Rooney.

“Rooney has been playing great,” Clarke said. “I’ve just been waiting for my time to get the call again, and I knew once I got it I’d have to step up, and that’s what I felt I did.”

Illinois will now enter the CSCHL tournament Friday with a first-round match against Iowa State in Cleveland. The Cyclones took the season series from the Illini 2-1-1.