Illinois hockey soars past Robert Morris Eagles

By Jason Grodsky

The Illini men’s hockey club passed its first road test of the year with flying colors.

The No. 1 Illini swept away the ninth-ranked Robert Morris College Eagles 3-1 and 6-3 this past weekend. In the process the Illini remained undefeated and picked up eight points in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League standings.

“It was the first road games of the year and overall getting two wins against Robert Morris was a pretty good success and a step forward for us,” team captain Steve Krates said.

Friday, the Illini were able to break through in the first period when sophomore forward Kevin Wicklin scored on Eagles’ junior goaltender Aaron Merkle off a pass from fellow sophomore Nick Fabbrini. Just over two minutes later sophomore Joey Resch punched in a power-play goal, giving the Illini a 2-0 lead heading into the second period.

Halfway through the second the Illini rookies provided a needed boost to the offense when freshman forward Johnny Liang lit the lamp on a pass from fellow freshman Jason Nemeth for an Illini power-play goal and his ninth goal of the season.

“The younger guys have stepped up so well,” senior forward Mike Roesch said. “They are fitting in perfectly and getting their confidence and it’s to the point where it’s hard to tell who’s a rookie and who isn’t.”

The 3-1 lead was all Illini junior goaltender Mike DeGeorge would need on this night. DeGeorge was able to shut down Robert Morris’ offense the rest of the way, frustrating the Eagles at every opportunity.

Going into Saturday night’s contest head coach Chad Cassel stressed the importance of getting off to a fast start.

“It was important we jumped on them early, because it sets the tone for the rest of the game,” Cassel said.

The Illini were able to do just that, jumping out to a 3-0 lead with early first period goals by sophomores Alex Park and Fabbrini and junior Phil Gerber.

Leading 3-2 in the second, Resch and sophomore forward Drew Heredia added to the Illini lead with a pair of goals to put them up three.

After a Robert Morris goal, assistant captain Andrew Lubesnick scored with 37 seconds left in the period to put the game out of reach.

With the wins at Robert Morris, the Illini and picked up valuable points in the CSCHL conference.

“Any time you can get eight points on the road in conference play is a big accomplishment,” Cassel said. “Robert Morris is going to beat a lot of good teams, so those are two quality wins for us.”

The Illini return home this weekend for a pair of games Friday and Saturday night against struggling conference foe No. 11 Eastern Michigan (3-9).

The Eagles have dropped their last four games, being outscored 33-11.

“We had a couple tough games against Eastern Michigan last year so it will be interesting to see where we stand against them this year,” Roesch said. “It’s just like every other weekend we have come ready to play. They are a good team and we can’t take a night off.”