By Brandon Hillary
The Illinois State club hockey team hosted No. 4 Michigan for two games last weekend in the first meeting between the teams in the modern era of hockey.
Against a much bigger, physical Michigan team, ISU’s speed and high-powered offense helped the Redbirds prevail with an 8-4 win on Friday and a 7-4 win on Saturday, improving their overall record to 20-3 and remaining at the top of the Central Region.
Michigan started off the action Friday night with an unassisted goal from Zach Zimmerman, but ISU responded three minutes later with a Tim Talty goal assisted by Connor Anderson. Steve Wrzala from the Redbirds and Wesley Cimmarrusti from the Wolverines were also able to score in the first, making the score 2-2 heading into the locker room for the first time.
Parker Johnson was able to score the lone goal in the second period on an assist by Talty, but it would not be the only goal he scored in the game.
Up 3-2 headed into the third, ISU came out with more speed, stamina and heart, scoring 5 goals, which included two more from Johnson for a hat trick. Trent Webb, Jeremy Gaddo and Anderson also chipped in third period goals in the Redbirds’ 8-4 win.
“It’s going to be a great ride for him,” head coach Brian Corley said of Parker, a freshman he has been recruiting for three years. “He really lifted the team up today. He scored some crucial goals at crucial times. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. You’re going to see a lot more of that.”
Johnson grew up in Bloomington and spent the last few years playing high-level hockey in the North American Hockey League.
“Our line had a lot of speed going which created a lot of odd man rushes,” Johnson said. “That opened up the ice and we capitalized on it. We’re here. We’re trying to prove a statement. We’re trying to get to nationals.”
With the speed and talent on the ice for the Redbirds, the National Championship is the only thing on everyone’s mind, including Coach Corley’s.
“This team has more heart, more drive, more passion than any other team I’ve been associated with, and I’ve been coaching for over 15 years. The leadership that we have with our three captains takes that to a whole new level. Michigan battled. They had the lead at times, but we knew what the outcome was going to be, and that says a lot about the character and heart of our guys.”
While a couple ’Birds did mention they wanted to tighten up defensively for Saturday night, noting that four goals was too many to give up, they were able to ride out a similar 7-4 win.
Knotted at three goals each headed into the third, ISU went on another late game surge, with four goals from Johnson, Josh Ambrosat, Anderson and Brian Reimel.
The Redbirds will have a month off before heading to West Meadows Ice Arena to face off against No. 7 DePaul University (11-8).