Illinois falls to Ohio to end win streak

By Carson Gourdie, Staff Writer

Before heading off for a month-long break, Illinois had one more obstacle to face: a weekend series with the No. 10-ranked Ohio Bobcats at the Big Pond. Behind stout defensive performances, physicality and clutch goals by both teams, the top-10 battle lived up to the hype with a series split.

Friday night was met with a slow offensive start by both teams, with multiple penalties halting any offensive momentum. Granted, both teams played airtight defense that limited the shots on goal, giving the goalies some time to breathe. After one period of play, the game was locked to a 0-0 draw.

The second period felt a little like Groundhog Day, with each team failing to generate sufficient offensive production while squandering any opportunities given to them. Quiet for the first five minutes of the period, Ohio forward Shawn Baird laid a huge hit on the Illinois defender, resulting in a five-minute power play and a disqualification for the forward. Despite playing with a one-man advantage, the Illini couldn’t convert and break the tie. Going into the third period, the game was deadlocked at zero.

The scoring drought ended quickly, though, when the Illini finally took advantage of a power play, scoring on a Kacper Ryba goal with 17:39 left to take the 1-0 lead. With their backs against the wall, the Bobcats attempted to amp up the pressure on Illini goalie Jake Barnhart, but the Illini defense stood up strong, holding the Bobcats to only 25 shots on goal the entire game. With one last-ditch effort to tie the game and send it into overtime, the Bobcats pulled the goalie in order to spark the offense. However, the Bobcats comeback fell flat, and the Illini capped off the night with an empty netter to secure a 2-0 victory, extending their winning streak to six games.

“It was a great effort start to finish,” said Illinois head coach Nick Fabbrini. “(But) we made a couple of mistakes all game long.”

The series finale on Saturday night had an unfamiliar twist: first-period scoring. Just over two minutes past the ice drop, Kacper Ryba scored his second goal of the weekend, resulting in a 1-0 lead and the fans throwing teddy bears on the rink to honor Best Buddies Awareness night. With the crowd going wild, Bobcat forward Gianni Evangelisti was able to sneak the puck past Illini goalie Elliot Gerth to tie the game. After 20 minutes of play, the game was tied at 1-1.

The quick offensive production quickly fizzled out and went back to a defensive stalemate in the second period. Both teams failed to gain any traction offensively, even with power play chances. Illinois failed to cash in on any of the four Ohio penalties, leaving the door open for Ohio to steal the game.

“We were not very crisp,” Fabbrini said of the failure to cash in on penalties. “We were not engaged for long periods of play and it came back to bite us.”

Tied at 1-1 to begin the third period, each team continued to commit penalties, with each team accumulating three penalties. With overtime looming, the Bobcats had other plans in mind, breaking the tie with a Kyle Craddick breakaway goal with 3:07 left in the game.

Fabbrini, needing to spark the offense to avoid their first loss in seven games, called a timeout with 1:28 left to draw up gameplay to force overtime. The Illini, though, were unable to convert, and the Bobcats escaped with a 2-1 victory to split the weekend series.

Despite the loss, the Illini ended their 2019 portion of the schedule in winning fashion, recording victories in six of their last seven games. The Illini now have a month break to recoup and get healthy before starting the 2020 portion of the season. But, of course, coach Fabbrini was hoping for a different result tonight heading into the second half of the season.

“I think it’ll be good to rest up,” Fabbrini said. “ (I’m) disappointed going into the break given the way we had been playing very well.”

Illinois’ next game will be a weekend rematch with Ohio, but this time in Athens, Ohio, on Jan. 10-11, 2020.

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