Illinois upsets Arizona in 1st round of national tournament

By Sean Neumann

The No. 18 Illinois hockey team shocked No. 15 Arizona in the first round of the ACHA national tournament, defeating the Wildcats, 4-3

The Wildcats previously beat six top-10 teams and handed then-undefeated No. 1 Arizona State its first loss earlier this season.

Illinois will advance to the next round of the tournament and will play No. 2 Oklahoma on Friday at 4 p.m.

Illinois scored first when freshman defenseman Cody von Rueden added two goals in the final five minutes of the first, prompting an Arizona goaltender change.

But five minutes into the second, senior forward John Scully added two more Illini goals on power plays. Illinois spent the majority of the third on defense to kill the clock. 

“It’s always nice for your team to get the first goal in a big game like that,” von Rueden said. “Up until that point, we were getting out played and that goal definitely uplifted us. It was huge for us.”

Von Rueden said Illinois’ four goals in 10 minutes was even surprising to the Illini players.

“Momentum in these types of games are a huge factor,” the defenseman added.

Illinois was three-for-six on the power play while Arizona was held scoreless on three power play opportunities – a major difference in the game’s outcome.

Before the tournament, Illini captain Austin Bostock predicted Illinois’ No. 18 seed would be beneficial to the team since it would be able to take opponents by surprise. 

“I think maybe Arizona was already looking forward to Oklahoma tomorrow, and we took it to them,” Bostock said. “I don’t think anybody’s intimidated whatsoever. “

The Illini split an away series with the Sooners in November, handing them one of their only five losses in regulation this season.

“We know they’re beatable,” Bostock said. “The key’s going to be to stay out of the box and make sure our power play is scoring goals for us.”

Von Rueden said Friday’s matchup with Oklahoma is “not going to be a walk in the park.”

“They’re arguably one of the best teams in the country,” von Rueden said. “It’s going to be a much different game than tonight. They’re a much bigger, stronger, faster team with some more experience, but I do think with the Olympic ice here, we’ve got a huge advantage over other teams.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @Neumannthehuman.