Illinois falls twice against Arizona State over weekend in Chicago

The Illini hockey team was hoping to escape Chicago with a couple wins and creep back up the national rankings, but what Illinois found was that a lot is going wrong.

No. 2 Arizona State (7-0) swept No. 7 Illinois (6-3-1), outscoring the Illini 14-1 over the course of Friday and Saturday night’s games.

Illinois was shut out in game one 8-0 and was nearly shut out again on Saturday night, losing 6-1.

Illinois’ penalty kill was an issue in game one Friday night, when they racked up 48 penalty minutes and allowed the Sun Devils to score three times on the power play.

“The bottom line is our power play and penalty kill were terrible this weekend, there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it,” defenseman Cody von Rueden said. “We’ve got to get the lazy penalties out of our game and play hard between the whistle and cut the crap out.”

The Illini offense was unable to crack an impressive Arizona State defense, which has only given up four goals this season in seven games.

Arizona State goaltenders Robert Levin and Joe D’Elia split duties in net for the Sun Devils this weekend, dominating the Illini in both games. Levin shut out the Illini on Friday and has given up just one goal this season, while posting a 0.28 goals against average. D’Elia nearly shut out the Illini on Saturday night as well, but Illini senior Eddie Quagliata scored with just over two minutes remaining in the game.

Quagliata’s late goal ended an Illini goalscoring drought that saw them hold scoreless for eight consecutive periods over the past two weekends. Head coach Nick Fabbrini said the team is simply struggling to find its offensive identity.

“We had quite a few chances to score some goals early, but weren’t able to do so,” Fabbrini said. “When you’re playing a team that’s better than you, you need to capitalize on your opportunities, and we didn’t do that. When we made mistakes, they scored goals. That’s what great teams do.”

Illini goaltender Nick Clarke, who gave up 11 goals this weekend, was pulled from Friday night’s game after allowing five Sun Devil goals through one and a half periods and was replaced by rookie Joe Olen.

Olen wasn’t able to handle the Sun Devils’ offensive onslaught, either, giving up three more Arizona State goals in the third period.

The Illini played most of Friday night’s game shorthanded and found themselves in the penalty box for 56 minutes throughout the weekend — four minutes shy of an entire game.

“We’ve proven that we are a little undisciplined, and we need to stop that,” von Rueden said.

Illinois’ defense was outmatched again Saturday night, allowing six Sun Devils goals to reach the back of the net.

The weekend was best summed up in the image of an exhausted Nick Clarke laying face down on the ice after giving up the fifth Arizona State goal late in the second period of Saturday night’s game.

Nine different Sun Devils scored on the Illini throughout the weekend and winger Danny McAuliffe had a hat trick within the first 40 minutes of Saturday night’s game, in addition to his two goals on Friday night.

“They’re a very good team, and good teams are going to put you in tough positions, but we didn’t do anything we needed to do to be competitive,” Fabbrini said. “For us to compete against teams that are more talented than us, we need to score when we get our opportunities.”

Illinois has now lost four straight games and has yet to win a game against an ACHA Division-I opponent. The Illini schedule will continue to challenge the team, playing No. 5 Robert Morris, No. 9 Lindenwood and No. 13 Ohio in the next three weeks.

“We’re all aware, and we know our schedule,” von Rueden said. “I actually believe that we could be a top team in the nation, we’ve yet to prove it, though. We’ve yet to prove it to the University of Illinois and ourselves.”

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