Illini reign supreme against Huskies

By Carson Gourdie, Contributing writer

Behind an aggressive Illinois offensive attack and superior size and talent, the Illini were able to coast to two easy victories over Northern Illinois at the Ice Arena, outscoring the opposition 22-5 over the weekend.

In their first year as a Division I program, the Huskies have struggled against the improved competition, garnering a 2-7 record. The Huskies were aiming for a signature win with a road trip facing the Illini, which would help them gain some much needed momentum for the young program. That day will have to wait a little longer.

In the opening game of the weekend series, the Illini were a poor host to their visitor, ambushing the Huskies with an explosive offensive attack. Bobby Ernsting got it started early, scoring on a Kacper Ryba assisted goal 3:56 into the game. Nick Chirillo followed suit, scoring his first goal on the season while Braden Stewart finished off the scoring with one minute remaining in the period. Combined with a dominant defensive period—holding the Huskies to only four shots on goal—the Illini led 3-0 at the end of the first period. 

The Huskies played a little better to start off the second period, scoring on an Austin Walny goal and holding the Illini scoreless for the first 11 minutes to cut the lead down to 3-1. But the Huskies’ renaissance flamed out fast, with the Illini scoring three goals in five minutes to put the game out of reach at 6-1 after the 2nd period of play.

Despite holding a 6-1 lead, Illinois did not take their foot off the gas, continuing to torment Northern Illinois goalie Chad Dodero with an additional five goals on 28 shots on goal. While the offensive intensity never wavered for the orange and blue, the defense took a step back, giving up three goals, despite only giving up seven shots on goal. Still, despite the Huskies finally being able to crack the code on Illini goalie Elliot Gerth, Illinois coasted to a dominant 11-4 victory, out shooting the Northern Illinois 95-16. 

“This was the first time I’ve ever seen a team shoot 90 shots on goal,” Illinois head coach Nick Fabbrini said. “It was nice to see the guys playing the right way and have all four lines going.”

Illinois’s performance in the series finale, however, made Friday night look like the appetizer. Saturday night started off just as well for the Illini, with the home team controlling the ice for the entire first period. Illinois struck first, with a Braden Stewart putback goal two minutes into regulation. The Illini followed that up with another putback goal by leading scorer Thomas Kolaz. The Huskies only managed to have two shots on goal compared to the Illini’s 25, resulting in a 2-0 lead for Illinois after the first period. 

The second period was even more lopsided, though, despite the Huskies cracking the scoreboard. Playing free of penalties and turnovers, the Illini showed off their offensive firepower with five goals during the second period, scored by four different Illini players, resulting in a commanding 7-1 advantage after two periods. Braden Stewart, who had already had a stellar performance in the first game, added two more goals to his season total.

“We were bought in and played the game we really wanted to play,” Stewart said. “The goals just kept coming.”

Unlike the previous third period performance, where the Illini let up three late goals to make the Huskies look more respectable, the orange and blue continued to apply pressure and finished off a complete performance. While holding Northern Illinois to only three shots on goal in the final period, Illinois continued to dominate the puck and add another four goals to balloon the lead to 11-1, running away with the victory.

“We were a lot more mentally sound today,” Fabbrini said. “It was nice to see the consistency and sticking to our game.”

With the two victories this weekend, the Illini improve to 10-4-2 on the season. But the stretch of games against inferior competition will come to an end, with Robert Morris and Ohio, both ranked teams, on deck.

@gourdiereport

[email protected]