Four hockey players named to Team USA

Four hockey players named to Team USA

By Jason Grodsky

Last Thursday USA Hockey announced its roster for the U.S. University Select Team that will compete in the 2007 Winter World University Games in Torino, Italy, Jan. 17-27, 2007.

Among the 22-man roster, four Illinois men’s club hockey players were selected. Illinois sophomore defenseman Mike Mannina, junior forwards Drew Heredia and Johnny Liang, and senior forward Marshall Chubirka were all named to the team after being selected at a tryout camp this past August.

The team is made up of players from non-varsity ice hockey teams that are affiliated with the American Collegiate Hockey Association, which includes 333 teams in three men’s divisions. All four Illini will be making their debuts for the U.S. team when they begin play in January.

“It was a great surprise for me,” Chubirka said. “There was a great amount of talent at the tryout and I wasn’t sure where I would fit in. It (is) probably the greatest accomplishment a player can have.”

The four Illini will have a familiar face on the bench coaching them.

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Illinois head coach Chad Cassel will return as the U.S. team’s head coach after leading the U.S. University Select Team to a 3-3-0 record in the 2005 Winter World University Games, its best record since returning to the Games in 2001.

This will be Cassel’s fourth go-around with the U.S. team. He was an assistant coach for Team USA at the Winter World University Games in 2001 and 2003, and was promoted to the head coaching position in 2005.

“It’s been an opportunity of a lifetime for me to coach the USA team,” Cassel said. “I’ve been fortunate to be involved in the program’s last four, the first couple of times as an assistant coach and now the head coach. It’s a great experience for the players and for me.”

Joining Mannina, Heredia, Liang and Chubirka on the U.S roster will be Ohio University senior defenseman Travis Preble, North Dakota State University senior forward Nick Krebsbach and University of Michigan-Dearborn junior forward Joel Kuehn, all of whom were members of the U.S. University Select Team in 2005.

Last season’s ACHA Rookie of the Year, Penn State sophomore forward Lukas DeLorenzo and last season’s ACHA Player of the Year, University of Rhode Island senior goaltender Anthony Feyock, were also named to the roster. Last season Feyock led all ACHA Division-I goaltenders with a 1.84 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

“This is the best team we’ve taken over there since I’ve been involved,” Cassel said. “We’re very deep at forward, better at defense and are solid in net. Hopefully we can make the medal round this time. We were just a couple of goals from making the medal round in 2005, so hopefully we can make the medal round this time around.”

Illinois and Rhode Island lead the way in number of players on the Team USA roster, with both schools sending four players, while Penn State will feature three players and Michigan-Dearborn and Ohio will each send two.

The Illini were represented by five players on the 2005 U.S. University Select Team that competed in 2005 Winter World University Games in Austria.

“To have four guys from Illinois named to the roster is a great accomplishment for our program,” Chubirka said. “It really shows we’re one of the premier programs in the league right now. It also says a lot just in general about the ACHA because we are going to have an opportunity to showcase our talent.”

When Cassel and the four Illini players make their trip overseas at the beginning of the second semester, the Illini will be left having to fill some big holes in their lineup and on the bench.

Illini assistant coach Darin Trulock will once again take on the responsibilities of being Illinois head coach while Cassel leads Team USA in Torino. Trulock took over for Cassel during his stint with Team USA in 2005 and led the Illini to a 3-3 record.

“Darin did a great job in 2005 when he took over,” Cassel said. “It’s just an opportunity for guys who aren’t currently cracking the lineup to play, and we have a couple of guys who are attempting to transfer into the University who will hopefully be able to step in and help us as well. I expect us to do well while we’re gone.”

As for the rest of the Illini, the team will be without all three of its captains, and to make matters worse, the Illini’s schedule doesn’t help them either. Illinois will be without four of its key players when it faces off against ACHA and Central States Collegiate Hockey League rival Iowa State at home on Jan. 19-20.

“A lot of our young guys have been stepping up lately even with us here so hopefully that will continue next semester when we’re gone,” Heredia said. “We will still have a lot of veteran leaders here and we have a lot of depth in general so we should be alright.”

While the Illini players will be disappointed to miss two home games against their fiercest rival Iowa State, Chubirka and Heredia are both excited and proud to have the chance to represent the Red, White and Blue.

“It’s a great honor to be able to play for your country,” Heredia said. “To get to play with the top 20 players in the league will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience and something I’ll never forget.

“Any time you can wear a USA jersey and represent your country, that’s a huge honor,” Chubirka said. “You get to represent what you stand for and believe in and that’s exciting in itself. I just hope as a team we can perform well and establish a reputation for USA as a good hockey program.”