From The Daily Illini
By James Barrowman
The Illini fell to 0-9-1 over the weekend when they faced the Maryville Saints at home. The Illini played their best game of the season Friday night when their aggressive forechecking and physical play forced the Saints into facing the Illini in a shootout, where the Illini lost 1-2. However, Illinois failed to bring that same intensity the following night, as Maryville decimated them 8-0.
The Illini started off slow on Friday night in front of a packed crowd, spending much of the opening minutes of period one in their own zone. Maryville kept Illinois trapped in their own zone, especially when a power play opportunity appeared for Maryville after a slashing penalty 10:31 into the game. Illinois didn’t falter though, as the penalty kill unit successfully killed off the penalty. The Illini kept up their solid defensive play until the closing minute of the period, when Maryville scored with 1:25 left in the first.
The score leading into the second didn’t seem to deter the Illini though, as they started off strong with some sustained pressure in the offensive zone to start the period. The second period is where the Illini started to play more aggressively and get more physical, which improved their play throughout the rest of the game. Illinois has been guilty of lacking physicality and aggression throughout the season, so to see the team play with those attributes in mind was a refreshing change of pace.
All in all the Illini would end up having seven quality shots on goal, one of which resulted in a goal to tie the game 1-1 while on the power play. The Illini did face some adversity when senior forward Dmytro Shmidt went down after a big hit, although he was able to return to the game later.
That aggression and physicality would continue into the third period where the Illini had their best period of play, despite not being able to capitalize on some power play opportunities to gain the lead. Throughout the third period, Illinois was aggressive on the forecheck, punishing Maryville for holding onto the puck for too long and throwing big hits on whichever player had the puck at the time. They also managed to sustain pressure while in the offensive zone, something the Illini have struggled with all season. The Illini suffered from another injured player though, as junior forward Alexander Matveev would leave the ice about 14 minutes into the period. Despite the two injuries, the Illini didn’t change their strategy.
“(Our strategy didn’t change at all).” Head coach Chad Cassel said after the game, “Both of them were able to continue to play. They were just out briefly, it wasn’t anything that was going to keep them out of the game, and they’re both great players and we need them and [they] played well.”
Matveev returned later in the period just as Shmidt had done in the period before. The Illini continued playing well during the third, but the game would eventually go into overtime.
During the overtime period, Illinois and Maryville were both unable to gain the upper hand as a result of some solid saves from both goaltenders. Because of this the two teams were forced into a shootout where despite the efforts of junior goaltender Ben Mazurek, the Illini fell 1-2 to Maryville. Despite the loss Cassel thought the team put up a valiant effort in front of the packed Dads Weekend crowd.
“Overall it was a good effort,” Cassel said post game. “We need to build on it, we need to continue to build, come out with the same effort tomorrow night and maybe finish on a few more opportunities.”
When asked about the crowd, Cassel acknowledged their impact.
“It was a great crowd tonight, and obviously it was a fun game,” Cassel said. “Hopefully we can get a big crowd out here tomorrow night. Obviously we feed off the energy of the crowd, so it was nice. By far the biggest crowd of the year and it was a fun game.”
Unfortunately for Cassel, the Illini were not able to sustain the same effort or mentality in the following game, where the Saints outplayed them in every aspect of the game. Maryville laid down a beating on Illinois Saturday night, peppering sophomore goaltender Nolan Woodring with shots for all 60 minutes of the game. Within the first period, Maryville was able to grab a two point lead, which they never let go of.
However, in contrast to the previous night’s game, the second period is where things really fell apart for the Illini. Over the course of just the second period, they would take six penalties. Maryville would also take quite a few penalties, rallying up four over the course of the second, but they were able to capitalize on the power play opportunities, which the Illini were unable to do. Maryville would score three out of the four goals they had in the second while on the powerplay. The penalty kill was just unable to keep up with Maryville’s power play unit, something Cassel made clear after the game.
“With where this team is at, our margin of error is very thin,” Cassel said. “We have to stay out of the box to be competitive, and obviously we didn’t do that. Our penalty kill was terrible, we just kept taking bad penalty after bad penalty after bad penalty. It was a lot of frustration, but you have to take all that bad emotion and use it in a positive way, and obviously we didn’t do that tonight.”
Maryville’s dominance would continue into the third period, where the Illini simply looked as if they were just trying to stop the bleeding. Maryville would end up scoring two more in front of a mostly empty crowd to win the game 0-8 despite the efforts of Woodring, who was the only member of the Illini who didn’t quit competing throughout the game. In the end Woodring blocked 40 of 48 shots faced, impressive considering that he didn’t have a lot of help in front throughout the majority of the game.
“I felt terrible for him,” Cassel said about Woodring after the game, “Because obviously he had no help out there. He competed until the very end. It’s just unfortunate because obviously it was a great effort on his part that was wasted. It’s just unfortunate that he didn’t get any help out there tonight.”
The Illini won’t play their next game until Dec. 2 when they’ll head to Bloomington, Ill., to play Illinois State before coming back home the following day to play the Redbirds again.
(Originally published at https://dailyillini.com/sports-stories/2022/11/07/illinois-hockey-falls-in-penalty-shootout-to-maryville-gets-shut-out-on-night-two/)