DePaul club hockey splits chippy weekend series against Illinois


Nate Burleyson

DePaul club hockey defenseman Michael Helf preparing to shoot against the Illinois goaltender on Feb. 4.

DePaul welcomed the University of Illinois to Johnny’s Ice House West for a weekend series that began on Friday, and defenseman Michael Helf showed them the door. His five-goal effort led DePaul to a 7-4 win over the feisty Illini in a game that saw 14 penalties.

Helf got the scoring going, netting the first goal of the game four minutes in past Illinois’ goalie. Following a Blue Demon defensive lapse, Illinois was able to tie the game up quickly. Yet, one of the biggest turning points of the game occurred early on when Illinois’ goalie was ejected for kicking a DePaul player.

Towards the end of DePaul’s power play, forward Jackson Leptich scored for DePaul, bringing the score to 2-1. Just a few minutes later, the visitors tied things up 2-2.

In the second period, DePaul was able to establish control and pressure the Illinois defense. Just 30 seconds in, Helf scored his second goal of the game to retake the lead. Illinois  had no answer for Helf, who scored three  more times in the period, with assists from forwards Ryan Plotke and Billy Paschen. By the end of the second period, DePaul led 6-3.

The scoring slowed down for both teams in the third period. After Illinois scored early to bring the game within two goals, they were phased out by DePaul’s penalty kill, and the plenty of opportunities DePaul presented. Finally, the dagger came from forward Brenton Wadsworth late in the period to make it 7-4.

DePaul’s explosive second period was what set them up to lock down defensively in the third. A split goaltending effort from Asher Motew and AJ Grzbek helped them stave off Illinois’ offense.

Following the action-packed win on Friday night, the Blue Demons anticipated another intense game when they took on Illinois again on Saturday. However, while the game was full of penalties and brawls, the Blue Demons fell to Illinois 6-5 in overtime.

The game was chippy from the first puck drop, with the Fighting Illini taking a penalty two minutes into the game. While Illinois was able to kill off the penalty, Helf carried over his offensive dominance from Friday night and opened the scoring after slipping the puck past the Illinois goalie and into the net.

Illinois bounced back after the opening goal, and DePaul goaltender Rudy Hodgson was forced to make some big saves during a DePaul penalty. However, having a teammate in the penalty box did not stop Helf, who took off on a shorthanded breakaway and scored to put the Blue Demons up 2-0.

The second period began with both teams in the penalty box, but they were able to kill off their respective penalties. Illinois began to put pressure on Hodgson in net, and while he made some big saves, he was unable to stop an Illinois shot from soaring past him into the net to cut DePaul’s lead in half.

Illinois followed that goal seconds later with a second to tie the game at two, and the intensity between the teams only grew from there before Illinois tacked on a third goal in a row to take the lead.

That lead did not last, though. Not long after, Paschen tied the game at three. Wadsworth tacked on another goal for the Blue Demons late in the second period, giving DePaul the lead.

The first half of the third period was all action with little scoring. A goal was not scored until halfway through the period when a shot by Illinois tied the game at four. However, a goal by forward Konrad Wujkowski put the Blue Demons back in the lead again not long after.

Penalties had been the issue for the Blue Demons all game, and that continued to be the case as time ticked down. A hit on a DePaul player near the Illinois goal led to a brawl in the corner and multiple penalties.

And while the Blue Demons’ penalty kill had been strong all game, they were unable to stop Illinois from tying the game at five with under two minutes left, forcing an overtime period.

“We took too many penalties on Saturday,” head coach Dan Wood said. “We got away from our game a little and started to take too many penalties, which sapped a lot of our energy and eventually led to the game tying goal at the end of the third.”

Overtime started with the Blue Demons winning the faceoff and controlling the puck, but Illinois quickly took over. From there, both goalies were forced to come up with some big saves, but it was Illinois who put the puck in the back of the net to win the game.

“[There were] a lot of penalties,” Helf said. “I think we could have easily won 10-nothing, but that’s the way it goes.”

The Blue Demons ended the game with nine penalties, while Illinois had five. And while DePaul’s penalty kill stood strong and only let up one power play goal, that goal was all that was needed to change the momentum of the game.

“I thought we played a good game,” Hodgson said. “We did what we could, we played as hard as we could for the seniors, and it’s not the result that we wanted, but we have playoffs to look forward to and right now, our focus is on that.”

The team takes on the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh next weekend on the road for their final matchup of the regular season before the playoffs begin.