Illinois hockey bounced from first round of nationals

By Lucas Wright

Missed opportunities told the tale of the Illinois hockey team’s 5-3 loss to Syracuse in the opening round at nationals.

The Illini fired 41 shots, but could not break down the wall that was Syracuse goalie Jaime Ketchabaw. He tallied 38 saves and set the tone for Syracuse.

The game opened with an uncharacteristic mistake from sophomore goalie Joe Olen. The netminder was caught out of position on a 2-1 fast break that led to the games first goal in Syracuse’s favor.

From there, Illinois controlled the tempo until the horn for the first intermission. The Illini had their first scoring opportunity off a power play midway through the period when head coach Nick Fabbrini used his only timeout of the game to set up an equalizer.

Despite not converting early on, Illinois seemed to carry most of the momentum into the second period. While struggling to find a way past Ketchabaw, the Illini went on the defensive after an elbowing penalty at the halfway point of the period. Strong defensive play led to a breakout from sophomore James Mcging and junior Austin Zima that ended in a Zima goal to even up the score.

The major momentum swing took place shortly after the Illini equalizer with an Orange power play goal seconds later. Joe Olen seemed to settle in at goal throughout most of the second, but following an Illinois defensive breakdown, Syracuse pushed the lead to 3-1 on a fast break put away.

Captain John Olen saved the game for the time being for the Illini just seconds later by going five-hole on Ketchabaw to bring Illinois within one in the dying seconds of the period.

The third period opened with a flurry of offense from both sides. Syracuse was the first to find the back of the net five minutes in to the period for a 4-2 lead, but Illinois answered back minutes later with a goal from senior Kyle Varzino.

The rest of the game revolved around penalties, and there were a lot of them. Each team alternated minor penalties until the five-minute mark where Syracuse went on a man advantage and then again at the 2:45 mark. A roughing call with two minutes left on Syracuse led to four-on-four hockey until a questionable call led to a Cruickshank penalty soon after.

The orange added an empty-netter in the last minute after the Illini were forced to pull Joe Olen for an extra offensive player just to even out the attack. The goal pushed it to 5-3, out of the reach of Illinois.

The loss dropped Illinois to a 20-15-3 record to finish out the season.

[email protected]

@LucasWright95