And in other news: The University of Illinois has a hockey team. In the words of Eek! the Cat "Gosh, well, I was not aware." Yes, they have a team, apparently since the 1930s with a break due to World War II. It's a Division 1 club hockey team in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, as opposed to D-1 in the NCAA like North Dakota or Colorado College. The big difference is the lack of scholarships for ACHA teams. The quality is pretty good from what I saw. The Fighting Illini were a much tougher team than last week's Peoria Mustangs, and caused Springfield to split their preseason series at one game apiece.
Game 1 on Friday night was a tense back and forth between Springfield and the University of Illinois. The Jr. Blues opened up the scoring at 17:23 in the first with a shot by James McGing. The Illini tied it in the second period at 8:27 (sorry, guy who scored it, I didn't hear your name over the PA) and took the lead with a goal by John Olen at 16:44. The boys in Springfield felt the pressure and returned for the third period to give as good they had received. A quick Illini goal at 3:18 in the third made it interesting, but the Jr. Blues answered with four goals in the third. Returning player Brett Skibba brought the score closer at 7:30 with a power play goal to make it 3-2 Fighting Illini. Fellow Jr. Blues veteran Mitch Rogge scored at 16:44 to tie the game. Then at 17:34 newcomer forward Mike Fazio scored his first goal of the night to give Springfield the lead and followed it at 19:02 with an empty-net goal for insurance. The Jr. Blues managed to get past the Illini with pure grit, and the Illini would leave for the night with a plan.
Their plan for the second game seemed to be agitate and draw penalties. Parker Jordan took a slashing penalty by waiting until he was right in front of the referee to slash an Illinois player's stick out of his hands. That was the first penalty of the night by both teams as they seemed to trade penalties all night. The first period wound up scoreless, with Austin Bostock of the Illini playing an agitating role that would keep the Jr. Blues off-balance for much of the night. This managed to keep the Jr. Blues from capitalizing on most of their even strength shots. Local player Trevor Stone scored in the second period at 5:19 with a power play goal right as a 5-on-3 was about to end. Russell Jordan scored at 9:03 on another power play to bring the Jr. Blues to a 2-0 lead. Austin Bostock took it into his own hands to rectify the situation by scoring goals at 12:46 and 15:03 to tie the game. The third period opened up with an Illinois player tripping the Jr. Blues goalie as a shot went into the net. The goal was disallowed immediately. That didn't matter much as John Scully fired another shot past goalie Tyler Fallica at 3:38 to give the Fighting Illini a 3-2 lead. The lead held for the rest of the third. Had it not been for bad positioning, Illini player Nick Stuercke would have scored an empty-net goal. Instead of a goal, his shot sailed straight across the crease harmlessly. The Jr. Blues regained some momentum in the final minute of the game, but they couldn't tie the game at all. The Fighting Illini took the second game of the series.
The Springfield Jr. Blues preseason ended with a 3-1-0 record. The teams they face will be far more like the University of Illinois than Peoria, so the boys will want to take the lessons from this weekends' games to heart. The next games for Springfield will be at the NAHL Showcase Tournament in Blaine, Minnesota from September 12 to September 15. Their first game will be against the NAHL West powerhouse Wenatchee Wild. The next Jr. Blues home game will be September 21 at 7pm against the Kenai River Brown Bears. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children under 18, veterans and seniors. Regular season tickets go on sale at the Nelson Center front desk on September 17. Come on out and watch some hockey with us!