Hockey triumphs on road

By Dan Berrigan

Illinois returned to the ice last weekend after a month off and began a four-game road trip in Ypsilanti, Mich., for two games against league-rival Eastern Michigan.

Forwards Jim Rogers and Brian Coleman, defensemen Andy Lubesnick and Brett Duncan, and goaltender Mike DeGeorge did not make the trip and instead traveled with head coach Chad Cassel to Innsbruck, Austria, for the Winter World University Games.

“A lot of guys were anxious and excited about their new roles,” said senior forward and interim captain Scott Kohler.

Without the starters, the Illini managed to split with No. 12 Eastern Michigan – dropping the opener 5-2 and rallying to defeat the Eagles 5-1 the next night.

Kohler said the weekend proved they are a deep enough team to survive without five starting players and the largest contributing factor in Friday’s loss was rust.

By the end of the night, the Illini fired 69 shots on net with only two goals to show for it. At the other end, Eastern Michigan scored three times on eight shots in the second period on freshman goaltender Marcos Montoya.

“We ran into a hot goalie,” Kohler said. “I’ve never been in a game where we have had that many shots. It was ridiculous because we pretty much controlled the entire game.”

The players became so obsessed with trying to score, they forget they had to play defense. The vicious cycle led to several odd-man rushes on a helpless Montoya.

Montoya and the rest of the Illini rebounded the next night, jumping out to a 4-1 lead by the end of the first period. The Illini defense and Montoya held off Eastern Michigan’s 17 shot surge in the third period to secure a split in the weekend series.

“To put four in right away was a huge boost to the morale,” Kohler said. “That’s what should have happened Friday night.”

At the University Games, Cassel, who was an assistant coach for the U.S. team in 2001 and 2003, led the team in its first game against Austria on Wednesday.

“This is the deepest team we’ve had in my three years of coaching at the Winter World University Games,” Cassel said on the American Hockey Association’s Web site. “I think we’ve got strengths in all areas and we should be solid in net.”

However, the United States was no match for the Austrians. Team USA was dismantled 8-1 by the hometown team, with their only goal coming on a two-man advantage.

“We played well at times,” Cassel said. “The bottom line is we didn’t play very smart.”

Penalties and defensive breakdowns led to the crushing defeat, said Cassel, who added he hopes the team learns from it and moves on.

“In the first and third periods when we were even strength, we held our own,” said team captain Joe Maglaque (Penn State). “I don’t think they were seven goals better than us.”

The tournament lasts until Jan. 22, leaving the No. 3 Illini shorthanded when they play No. 9 Michigan-Dearborn on the road this weekend.

“Michigan-Dearborn has had some big weekends, but they are still below .500,” Kohler said. “We expect them to be at the top of their game, but I’m very confident in our team.”