Coach earns historic win against Kent State

By Jason Grodsky

It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty, but a 3-2 overtime victory at Kent State on Nov. 19 earned Illini men’s head hockey coach Chad Cassel a spot in the record books.

The Illini’s overtime win gave the Illini not only a hard fought Central States Collegiate Hockey League conference victory, but also gave Cassel his 211th win as head coach of the Illini.

The win broke the 13-year record for most wins by a coach in Illinois men’s hockey history, formerly held by coach Mark Roszkowski, who coached the Illini from 1976-1992. It took Cassel only half way into his ninth season as Illinois’ coach to reach the mark.

“Obviously, it’s a nice record to have and it’s a good feeling,” Cassel said. “I think I have been very fortunate, because we have been able to bring in some talented players, and when you have talent it enables you to win a lot of hockey games.”

After growing up in the Champaign area, Cassel went on to play hockey at rival Ohio University for two years, before transferring back home to play for the Illini. In 1997, after one year of being an assistant coach under Bob Turngren, Cassel took over the reigns as Illini head coach.

“Champaign is obviously a special place for me,” Cassel said. “Growing up watching them as a kid, and then playing and now coaching here, just makes it all the more special.”

His experience as a defenseman at Illinois has given Cassel a familiarity with the school and program that has been a big key to his success as a coach.

“A lot of the success has to do with the fact that he played here as an Illini himself,” junior goaltender Mike DeGeorge said. “He knows a lot about what it’s like to be a student here, from everything from the bar scene to the hockey scene. He is able to relate to the players and help them through.”

Cassel’s ability to allow his players to develop their skills and have them perform at such high levels on the ice has given him a great reputation as a coach and a mentor.

“Chad brings so much experience from both playing and coaching,” said senior team captain Steve Krates. “He has been through everything, and he helps us get through problems we may be having. He is quick to recognize and help correct parts of our game that we may not excel at and that we may have flaws with.”

Cassel’s methods and reputation as a coach have been able to land Illinois top talent from around not only the state but also the country, paving the way for success for the Illini hockey program in the years to come.

“In the past years he has been able to bring in some good talent,” Krates said. “He has a great ability of recognizing talent and knowing how to use it and mold it to form a team.”

Since Cassel took over the Illini, success on the ice has been incredible. In his eight and a half years as head coach, he has compiled a 211-80-12 record and has led the Illini to a CSCHL regular season and tournament championship in 2002-2003, its first American Colligate Hockey Association No. 1 ranking, and last year’s ACHA Division-1 National Championship, while also winning CSCHL and ACHA Coach of the Year honors for the 2002-2003 season.

“Whenever you have somebody who has accomplished what he has to this point, he becomes a role model for us and gets that much more respect from us,” Krates said.

Cassel’s ongoing success with the Illini has continued this season as well. The No. 1 ranked Illini are 16-0 and tied with Ohio for the top spot in the CSCHL conference with 32 points.

After beating conference opponent Kent State 3-2 and 7-1 in their first games out of state, the Illini return home after a week off to prepare for non-conference foe Michigan.

“After you’ve taken a week off, you really have to work on getting back into shape,” DeGeorge said. “With a lot of conditioning drills, that’s what we’ll have to work on this week. We’re all looking to get back rolling and get momentum heading into our upcoming games.”