Ice hockey: Ohio finishes sweep of Illinois

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It’s not often that a fantastic performance against a top ten opponent isn’t the leading story on the ice. However, on this night, the party in the penalty box garnered the most attention.

Bird Arena filled to capacity as the Ohio Bobcats (20-7-0) completed a sweep of the Illinois Fighting Illini (10-8-1), 5-1, despite both teams combining for over 140 penalty minutes.

Surprisingly, the violent atmosphere wasn’t too evident in the first two periods. Instead, it was the play of the defense that created scoring opportunities for the ‘Cats.

Ohio got on the board first a little over 11 minutes into the contest when Zach Tisdale, a familiar face in games against top-tier competition, beat Illini goaltender Nick Clarke. It was Tisdale's seventh tally on the year.

Then, with time running out in the opening period, Nick Rostek deflected a rocketed slapshot from defenseman Zack Barbis that found its way over Clarke’s shoulder. The goal put the Bobcats up two heading into the second period.

Brendan Madden and the Ohio defense flexed its muscles in the second frame. They faced five Illinois power play opportunities and emerged with only one blemish six minutes into the period. Derek Schultz did the honors for the Illini.

With the defense performing at a higher level, the ‘Cats offense took aim at putting the game away.

Rostek added his second goal of the contest – and third of the weekend – at the 18:48 mark of the period. Just over seven minutes later, freshman Mike Kretz relentlessly attacked the Illinois net before putting home his second of the campaign to extend the Bobcats lead to 4-1.

And then mayhem consumed the night in Athens. The final 20 minutes more resembled a boxing match then a matchup of CSCHL rivals.

In the third period alone, there were multiple brawls, 22 penalties and five ejections before Ohio picked up its 20th win of the season. Arguably the best indication of the strange turn of events was a stretch that saw five players in the penalty box at one time.

But, in the end, the Bobcats added a Brett Agnew goal and did enough to solidify their spot as the second place team in the CSCHL. They now head into a tough road stretch that features games at #3 Lindenwood.

In goal, Madden saved 26 of 28 shots on the weekend to record his seventh and eighth wins of the year. The youngster also lowered his outstanding goals allowed average to 1.49.

Ohio remains undefeated at home (10-0-0) and went to 8-1-0 in league games with the victory. The journey to win consecutive league tournament championships will continue next Friday and Saturday at Robert Morris.