From Daily Journal
By Cody Smith
For the first time in more than two years, the Kankakee Ice Valley Centre Ice Arena managed to bring collegiate level hockey back through its doors.
After having last hosted a game for Purdue University Northwest in December 2019, the rink got in touch with both Illinois State and Marian University, a school out of Fond du Lac, Wis., to host a neutral game between the two American Collegiate Hockey Association Division III club hockey opponents.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time given the recent struggles the arena has faced with COVID-19 cases still surging across the nation. After closing its doors from Dec. 23-26, the Ice Valley Centre Ice Arena since has reopened and given its community a chance to come together and get a glimpse of what it’s like to see collegiate hockey in action.
“We haven’t held an event like this since one or two years ago, when Purdue played here,” Ice Valley’s hockey director Mick Mullady said. “I think it’s really good for our community to put this game on because there’s a lot of people [who] never get to see this level of hockey.
“So, for these two schools to be able to come to Kankakee and have fans see it here in Kankakee is pretty cool.”
The rink has its own hockey clubs in the Kankakee Coyotes (youth level) and Kankakee Irish (high school level), and the rink and local hockey community believed this was a perfect opportunity for some of its younger, aspiring college hockey players to see how much different the game is from what they are used to competing in.
“Our numbers have been down lately, and so I like that the younger kids can come here and see this level of hockey,” Mullady said. “They can see that they can grow into what’s ahead of them.
“If you have a kid [who is] 5 to 10 years old, seeing these big college kids playing a rougher game, it’s just exciting for them to see, and it’s encouraging.”
Mullady’s sentiment was exactly what some of the Kankakee Irish players were looking to see out of the two collegiate teams, making the event that much more worth hosting.
“We haven’t had a college hockey game here in a couple of years, and so I just wanted to come out with some of my teammates and catch a glimpse of how college hockey is played,” said Elliot Blake, a 15 year-old Kankakee Irish player. “I’ve just been paying attention to what each individual player does and what they are focusing on the most in order to better prepare myself for my aspirations of playing college hockey.”
As for the game itself, it was a high-scoring affair by both squads.
Although it was Illinois State that eventually picked up the 7-5 victory, the Redbirds had to fight to the bitter end to pick up the win.
Marian University got things started early in the first period by jumping out to a 2-0 lead after back-to-back goals by Cole Hales-Main at the 14- and five-minute marks. The Sabres then buckled down on defense to cling to their two-goal lead heading into the second period.
After a slow first period, the Redbirds got things going, when Colin Young connected a score off an assist by Patrick Zatloukal two minutes in. However, Marian quickly responded with a goal of its own less than a minute later, when Hales-Main secured a hat trick to put the Sabres up 3-1 with just more than 18 minutes remaining in the second period.
Illinois State eventually forced a 3-3 tie later in the period before Hales-Main connected on his fourth goal of the evening to help his squad take a one-goal lead heading into the final period.
The Redbirds then caught fire in the final period by scoring two straight goals to take a 5-4 lead with just less than 10 minutes remaining in the game. It was a lead they held onto for the next several minutes until Ethan Koskelainen tied things up at five apiece with the help of a five-on-four power play.
As quickly as the Sabres tied it, Illinois State responded by scoring just seven seconds later, when Aidan Krieble scored to put the Redbirds back on top with a 6-5 lead.
“It was just a lucky play honestly,” Krieble said. “My teammate tried to pass it across to me, and the puck just ended up sitting in the slot there, and I banged it home.”
Feeling the game slipping away, Marian decided to pull its goalie for the final two minutes, which resulted in the home team tacking on an extra goal for good measure to help clinch the 7-5 victory.
“It was a good response by my team to pull off the comeback victory,” said Redbirds head coach Michael Webb. “It was good team hockey with solid fundamentals and the guys supported each other and kept their heads up high. They never gave up, and so I’m really proud of them.”
Ice Valley will host another game game this weekend. The University of Illinois ACHA Division II club hockey team will face Northwestern at 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
(Originally published at https://www.daily-journal.com/sports/ice-valley-brings-college-hockey-back-to-its-rink/article_b3494268-77ed-11ec-8467-eb9afbe0ddec.html)