Illini hockey falls in 2nd round of CSCHL tournament

Coming off a 5-1 upset win against Iowa State in the first round of the CSCHL tournament, the Illini hockey team saw its conference season come to an abrupt end. The Illini fell to No. 1 Lindenwood for the fifth time this season, losing 5-1.

Entering Friday’s matchup with Iowa State, the Illini had lost three of four regular season games against the Cyclones, who were looking to continue the trend. Illinois shut down the Cyclones by scoring early and drawing penalties.

Senior forward Andrew Cardona set the tone with a power-play goal midway through the first period to give the Illini the lead. The Illini opened up the floodgates in the second period, scoring four unanswered goals. The red-hot junior defenseman Mike Evans continued his tear, notching a goal and assist in the victory.

The second round saw Illinois facing a familiar foe in Lindenwood. The Lions had just swept the Illini the week prior to this weekend’s tournament. Junior forward Mike Ursitti thought Lindenwood had the advantage before the game even began.

“Going into Saturday, Lindenwood already had an edge after getting a bye for the first round,” he said. “You could tell they had a lot more energy than us. Having a short bench really hurt us, too.”

Illinois head coach Chad Cassel attributed the team’s loss to not capitalizing on scoring chances.

“(Lindenwood’s) a good team and had good chances,” Cassel said. “They had a lot of high-quality scoring chances and did a good job of finishing. We also had a lot of chances but couldn’t finish, and that’s what cost us.”

In goal, senior Dan Rooney continued his strong play Friday, stopping 24 of 25 shots in the game. Sophomore Nick Clarke got the start Saturday and let up five goals on 21 shots. Cassel, however, said both goalies played well over the weekend, regardless of the score.

“I think Rooney played very well Friday night,” Cassel said. “He did a great job staying in position and not giving up any high-quality scoring chances.

“Even though the score wouldn’t indicate it, Clarke played very well as well,” Cassel added. “The game was a lot closer than the score shows, and none of the goals Clarke let up were really his fault. I don’t regret not starting Rooney.”

The loss Saturday added to what Ursitti called a “roller-coaster” season.

“We started out the season slow with a few losses,” he said. “Then we really stepped things up in the showcase by beating the defending national champions. With all the roster adjustments and injuries, it’s been hard to get into a rhythm. But I think in two weeks we’ll have found our groove and have a good shot at winning the national championship.”

Illinois will face Eastern Michigan on Friday at the Big Pond. They will pay tribute to all former Illini hockey players during the annual alumni weekend.