Illini hockey wins pair at home

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois men’s hockey club found out they were the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s (ACHA) top-ranked team when the latest ACHA poll was released Friday afternoon – and on Friday and Saturday night, they played like it.

Illinois routed No. 17-ranked Eastern Michigan 8-0 and 7-3 in its pair of games this weekend at the University of Illinois Ice Arena, earning eight more points in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League (CSCHL).

“We kept reiterating the fact that we wanted to be number one and we wanted to show that to all the teams out there,” junior forward Johnny Liang said. “It’s important that we come out every game and work for 60 minutes every game.”

Illinois came out on fire Friday night. The Illini jumped on top of the Eagles with five goals in the first period and never looked back.

Illini freshman Matt Jennings got the scoring going just 1:50 into the game with a shot just inside the Eagles’ blue line that got past Eastern Michigan sophomore goalie Joe Rutherford. Power-play goals by juniors Nick Fabbrini and Alex Park later in the period eventually caused the Eagles to pull Rutherford in favor of senior goalie Brian Markowicz.

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Markowicz, however, didn’t fare any better. The Illini punched in five more goals against the Eagles back-up goalie, including two by Liang.

Illinois’ eight goals were scored by six different players, while five other Illini added assists on the night. Illini senior goaltender Mike DeGeorge earned his second shutout of the season as Illinois out-shot Eastern Michigan 35-to-14.

“Mike was outstanding in net Friday and made big saves when we need him,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “He’s been pretty consistent for us all year.”

Saturday night’s game had the looks of being another blowout after the Illini scored three first period goals and built a 5-0 lead midway through the second period with two goals by senior Marshall Chubirka.

But Eastern Michigan held tough, scoring three times in the second period to pull within two goals entering the third period.

The Illini managed to pull away from the Eagles in the third period, however, with goals by Liang and sophomore Jason Nemeth.

“We came out strong both nights,” Park said. “But both nights we also took about 10 minutes off in the second period. It didn’t show Friday but Saturday it showed. As soon as we string together 60 minutes we’ll be a dominant team.”

The wins moved Illinois’ record to 12-0 on the season and, more importantly, moved the team into a tie for first place in the CSCHL with Robert Morris College. Robert Morris swept No. 4-ranked Ohio in two games this weekend to keep a share of the conference lead with 24 points.

“To be number one in the rankings and to be number one in the conference is what we’re striving for,” Liang said. “We want to win both and right now we’re going in the right direction and just have to keep working.”