Seniors shine in final home games

By Jason Grodsky

Dee Brown and James Augustine weren’t the only two Illinois athletes to bid farewell to the Illini faithful this weekend. The No.4-ranked Illini men’s hockey club said goodbye to its three seniors Saturday night when the team faced off against Minnesota at the Illinois Ice Arena.

Over the last four years, seniors Steve Krates, Andy Lubesnick and Mike Roesch led the Illini to many accomplishments, including the 2005 American Collegiate Hockey Association National Championship, the Central States Collegiate Hockey League regular season and playoff championships and numerous league and team awards.

The three seniors went out in style this weekend, leading the Illini to 9-2 and 10-1 victories over the ACHA’s Division-II Golden Gophers.

“All three have been great players to coach,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “Over the course of their careers we’ve had a tremendous amount of success and all three of them have played key roles in it.”

While the seniors were the main focus of the weekend, it was the youth of the team that stole the show in Friday night’s contest. Sophomore forwards Alex Park and Joey Resch led the team with two goals each, while freshman Mike Mannina added four assists.

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    Sophomore goaltender Doug George picked up his first win as a starter, filling in for junior goaltender Mike DeGeorge who was given the weekend off after being named the CSCHL Tournament Most Valuable Player last weekend. George stopped 21 shots on the night en route to a 9-2 Illini victory.

    The great play by the young players on the team has Cassel confident that even though the team is losing three leaders, those coming back will step up and fill in nicely.

    “Someone always steps up for us,” Cassel said. “We graduated a great class last year and guys stepped up this year. I’m sure someone will step up for us next year.”

    The team and fans paid tribute to their three seniors prior to the drop of the puck for Saturday night’s game.

    “During the ceremony it was starting to settle in that this was going to be the last game,” Roesch said. “I was just thinking to myself, ‘Enjoy it while it lasts and think back on it later.’ But we still have a lot of work to do before the season ends.”

    When the game started, the Gophers quickly realized they weren’t going to be able to keep up with the Illini for the second night in a row.

    The Illini were fittingly led by their seniors, who counted for four of Illinois’ goals of the night and a handful of assists to allow the Illini to cruise to a 10-1 win. Roesch led the way with two goals and two assists. Krates netted his fourth goal of the season to go along with two assists, while Lubesnick tallied a goal and an assist.

    Once the final horn sounded, the team saluted its fans at center ice and stepped off the ice at the “Big Pond” for the final time this season.

    “It really didn’t hit me until I came off the ice at the end,” Krates said. “During the game you’re thinking about winning the game so it wasn’t really going through my mind then. But when I went off the ice and did the last salute to the fans it sort of hit me a little bit that I just played my last game here.”

    With their final regular season games out of the way, the Illini (29-5-1) now turn their attention to the main event, the ACHA national tournament in West Chester, PA.

    The Illini will open the tournament on Thursday as the No.4-seed, the same seed they were last year when they won the 2005 ACHA National Championship.

    Illinois’ first opponent of the tournament will be the No.13-seed Robert Morris College. The Illini defeated the Eagles 3-1 and 6-3 on the road in the teams’ only two meetings of the year.

    “We don’t have that much time to prepare,” Krates said. “The main goal will be to get some guys healthy. We’re pretty bruised up, but just have to stay focused and realize our goal that we’ve been working for all year. We really have to work hard and give it our all this next week.”