Hockey club remains perfect

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois men’s hockey club picked up their 13th and 14th straight wins to start the season on Friday and Saturday night.

The Illini entered the weekend the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s (ACHA) No. 1-ranked team but without a few of its players in the line up due to injuries.

Still the Illini defeated the North Dakota State Bison 6-2 both nights to remain a perfect 14-0, and in the process got a little payback for the Bison’s upset win over the Illini last season.

“We played pretty well considering we were missing quite a few guys from the line up,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “We played with a few different lines and combinations and still got two more wins. But I think we realize we still have some work to do.”

Illinois freshman goaltender Mike Burda made his second start of the season in Friday night’s contest, but struggled early, only stopping two of North Dakota State’s four shots in the first period to allow the Bison to jump on top of the Illini 2-0.

“The two goals they got were two beautiful goals and were courtesy of breakdowns on our part,” Cassel said. “But Burda came back and played outstanding in the third period and made some huge saves for us.”

Illinois finally got on the scoreboard late first period when Illinois junior forward and team captain Drew Heredia finally sparked the Illini offense with an unassisted goal with just three seconds remaining in the first period.

The Illini would use the momentum built off Drew Heredia’s goal to score three times in the second period and take a 4-2 lead heading into the third period.

Junior forward Nick Fabbrini and freshman forward J.J. Heredia would both score their second goals of the game in the third period to put the game out of reach and give Illinois a 6-2 win.

J.J. Heredia would also finish with two assists on the night to lead the Illini with four points.

In Saturday night’s game the Illini would use five powerplay goals to put away the Bison.

Illini junior forward Alex Park and freshman forward Matt Jennings would each tally powerplay goals in the first period to give Illinois an early 2-0 lead. Jennings would add another powerplay goal in the third period and Park would add two assists by the end of the game to help Illinois to its second straight 6-2 victory.

“Based from the beginning of the year to now our powerplay looks ten times better,” Park said. “We still have to work on burying our opportunities though. We had a lot of shots but only six goals and we should have had about ten.”

Despite the two wins the Illini suffered another injury to their already banged-up lineup.

Friday night’s star J.J. Heredia went down with a left leg injury late in the second period of Saturday night’s game and did not return. J.J. Heredia was tripped up behind the North Dakota State net and had to be helped off the ice nursing his left leg.

“Losing J.J. is a big blow to the team,” Jennings said. “But it doesn’t look like it’s anything too serious. We just have to work from here and hopefully he will be back soon for us.”

The team doesn’t know who will be back for next weekend’s games against No. 15-ranked Kent State, but the Illini are optimistic players will step up and fill in the holes.