Illini stay undefeated with Michigan State sweep

It wasn’t easy, but the Illinois hockey team fought off Michigan State to deliver two more home wins over the weekend and is now 6-0 on the season.

Friday night’s victory over the Spartans came in a shootout, as the Illini erased two late-game deficits. They found themselves down 2-0 in the second period and could not get anything going on offense.

Freshman forward John Belmont scored Illinois’ first goal toward the end of the second period on a power play, and sophomore forward John Olen followed up with a game-tying goal early in the third.

The Spartans would respond quickly, with a goal from Tyler Van Acker just four minutes after the Illini tied the game. With just two minutes and 15 seconds left in the game senior forward Eddie Quagliata knotted up the score at three apiece, sending the game into overtime.

Neither team could score in the five-minute overtime period, leading to a game-deciding shootout. Senior goaltender Nick Clarke rejected both shots by Michigan State, while Olen and Belmont each scored for the Illini, clinching the shootout win and giving them a 4-3 victory in dramatic fashion.

Illinois outshot Michigan State 44 to 18 and forced 13 minor penalties in the tightly contested and somewhat chippy overtime win.

“It was pretty dirty,” Belmont said after the game. “The ref wasn’t helping us out much, but I’m just trying to work hard and when you work hard, you draw penalties.”

Saturday night’s matchup against the Spartans was just as tight as the first until the Illini pulled away in the third period with an offensive explosion.

Illinois put points on the board first with a goal from sophomore forward Kevin Chowaniec early in the opening period. The Spartans responded five minutes later with a goal of their own, but the Illini came out of the first period with a 2-1 lead after a goal by freshman defenseman Robert Kokoszka.

The Spartans dominated the second period, scoring two goals from Alex Fasan and Tyler Van Acker, and the Illini entered the third period trailing 3-2.

Two minutes into the final period, freshman forward Eric Saulters scored to tie up the game. Freshman defenseman Cody von Rueden scored just two minutes later to give the Illini the lead, and they would not look back from there. The Illini went on to score three more times in the period with goals from Belmont, freshman forward Matt Flosi and Olen.

The final score was 7-4, as the Illini finished off a weekend sweep of the Spartans. They outshot the Spartans 31-26 on Saturday.

The Spartans were the toughest test the Illini hockey team has faced this year, and before the weekend series began, Illini head coach Nick Fabbrini knew they would be formidable foes.

“It’s going to be important for us to make sure that we keep doing things we’re supposed to be doing and make sure we don’t take them lightly because I think we took them lightly last year and they came in here and beat us,” Fabbrini said. “And that’s not a mistake we’re going to make again.”

Illinois did not make that mistake again, as it kept finding ways to get the better of Michigan State and remain undefeated.

The Illini will have a long week or practice before finishing their homestand against Iowa State, their first conference opponent of the season.

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and @joeyfigueroa3.