Hockey club aims to improve standing at home against Eastern Michigan

Forward Drew Heredia (23) gets shoved by a Liberty defender during their match at home Friday night Oct. 20. The Illini beat Liberty 3-1, scoring all three goals in the third period. Dan Hollander

Forward Drew Heredia (23) gets shoved by a Liberty defender during their match at home Friday night Oct. 20. The Illini beat Liberty 3-1, scoring all three goals in the third period. Dan Hollander

By Jason Grodsky

After taking care of business on the road at Western Michigan last weekend, the Illinois men’s hockey club turns its attention to another Michigan team, the Eagles of Eastern Michigan.

The American Collegiate Hockey Association’s (ACHA) No. 2-ranked Illini will look to remain perfect against No. 16-ranked Eastern Michigan at the University of Illinois Ice Arena for a pair of Central States Collegiate Hockey League (CSCHL) conference games on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.

“We need to concentrate on controlling the game 5-on-5,” senior forward Marshall Chubirka said. “We have to play with more urgency and intensity. The last couple of games we’ve been down at times, so we have to try and get up on teams and stay there.”

As it stands right now the Illini are 4-0 in the CSCHL and tied for second-place in the CSCHL standings with Robert Morris College at 16 points, just four points behind conference-leader Ohio University who has played two more conference games than the Illini and Robert Morris.

With two wins this weekend over Eastern Michigan, the Illini would earn eight points in the CSCHL standings and could jump over Ohio with a little help from Robert Morris College.

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Robert Morris will host Ohio in this weekend and if the Eagles can knock off the No. 4-ranked Bobcats it could pave the way for the Illini to take over the conference lead.

“I’m not so concerned with the standings right now,” Chubirka said. “It would be nice to win another league championship but that is probably going to come down to the games second semester. We can’t concern ourselves with how other teams are doing, we just have to go out and play our game.”

While Illinois sits at the top of the CSCHL standings, Eastern Michigan is at the bottom. Despite being ranked No. 16, the Eagles are just 5-5 on the season and winless in four conference games.

Eastern Michigan is led by sophomore forward Derek Porter and senior forward Kelly Koester. Both Porter and Koester lead Eastern Michigan with 15 points so far this season.

The Eagles leading goal scorer this season has been senior forward Daniel Olgren, who ranks tied for 13th in the ACHA with 10 goals.

“Eastern is skilled, fast and similar to us,” Illini assistant coach Darin Trulock said. “This weekend’s games should be exciting and fast-paced and full of offense. That’s typically how Eastern Michigan plays, a lot of offense.”

While Eastern Michigan hasn’t had many problems finding the back of the net on offense, its struggles this season have been letting opponents do the same. The Eagles are averaging 4.3 goals scored against them in a game.

Sophomore goaltender Jeremy Kaleniecki has gotten the majority of the starts in goal for the Eagles and is averaging 3.27 goals against this season, while fellow sophomore goalie Joseph Rutherford has struggled at times this season, posting a 5.25 goals against average.

“They typically put a lot of points on the scoreboard, but are a little weaker on defense so they also allow a lot of goals,” Trulock said.

Illinois beat Eastern Michigan in all three of the two team’s games last season, including an 8-5 victory over the Eagles in the first round of the CSCHL Tournament.

In all three games last season the Illini scored eight goals, while holding Eastern Michigan to an average of five.

“Since I’ve been here Eastern Michigan has always played us tight,” Chubirka said. “They usually better records, but they have always given us good games. We have to come out ready to play.”