Illini sweep Eastern Michigan

By Jason Grodsky

It wasn’t easy, but the Illinois men’s hockey team swept away the Eagles of Eastern Michigan to remain undefeated and No. 1 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.

The Illini came away with victories of 8-3 and 8-7 against the ACHA’s 17th-ranked Eastern Michigan Eagles this weekend at home to improve to 12-0, and in the process picked up eight valuable points in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League conference standings.

Friday night the Illini started slow, but broke through late in the first period on the power play, when sophomore Joey Resch scored on Eastern Michigan senior goalie Tom Gresham off a great cross-ice pass from fellow sophomore Drew Heredia to give the Illini a 1-0 lead going into the second period.

“Our lines (have) been working good together lately, and we’re being able to flow together in the games,” Heredia said. “We know where each other (are on the ice) so it creates opportunities for us.”

The Illini carried over the momentum they gained at the end of the first period into the second with great puck movement, and jumped on the Eagles early for three goals by sophomores Nick Fabbrini and Alex Park and junior Marshall Chubirka.

“Our puck movement helped us out a lot,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “It really created a lot of opportunities for us throughout the game.”

Illinois led 4-2 in the third period when Chubirka tallied his second goal of the game and third of the season to give the Illini a 5-2 advantage. From there the Illini defense shut down the Eagles, while the offense was able to put away the game, scoring three more times to give the Illini an 8-3 win.

While Friday night’s game was a breeze for the Illini, Saturday night was a completely different story.

The game featured a total of 17 penalties, 10 of which were committed by the Illini. Eastern Michigan was able to take advantage of the undisciplined Illini, scoring five of its seven goals on the power play.

“We should have stayed out of the box,” freshman forward Johnny Liang said. “We have to go back to the chalk board and work on our penalty kill and look to improve for next weekend to keep our streak going.”

The Illini were able to overcome the penalties and mistakes by getting off to a quick start and answering every Eastern Michigan run with one of their own.

“We got a quick start, but it’s hard to keep the momentum when you keep getting penalties,” senior forward Mike Roesch said. “But I thought we played well, and every time they scored, I thought we came together as a team and were able to overcome it.”

Roesch, Liang and Fabbrini provided the Illini with big offensive boosts, each scoring two goals, with Roesch and Liang also adding two assists to lead Illinois to an 8-7 victory.

The close victory, however, could turn out to be a positive for the Illini, providing them with a valuable learning experience for the rest of the season.

“It’s a big gelling experience, and anytime you play a close game, it brings the team closer together,” Roesch said. “I thought we played well, and even though they were close games, I think we’re taking a step in the right direction.”

The Illini hope to make adjustments this week in practice to improve on both defense and special teams before they welcome Big Ten-foe Indiana University to the “Big Pond” next weekend for a set of non-conference games Friday Nov. 11 and Saturday Nov. 12.

“We need to have a good week of practice,” Cassel said. “Indiana is going to come in and play us tough like they usually do. Every weekend is going be a battle because teams are shooting for us. We have to come ready to play every game.”