Men’s club hockey to visit Kent State

Mens club hockey to visit Kent State

By Jason Grodsky

The No. 1-ranked Illinois men’s hockey club will hit the road for just the third time this year, traveling to Kent State for a pair of Central States Collegiate Hockey League (CSCHL) conference games this weekend.

The American Collegiate Hockey Association’s (ACHA) top-ranked Illini will put its perfect 14-0 record on the line against the No. 15-ranked Golden Flashes on Friday and Saturday nights in Kent, Ohio, but the Illini will have to do it without a few key players.

Illinois will be without junior forward Kevin Wicklin, out with a broken foot, junior defenseman Dave Schmitt, who is suffering from a hernia, and senior forward Marshall Chubirka, who sat out last weekend’s pair of wins against North Dakota State and is still ailing from a right shoulder injury. Additionally, freshman forward J.J. Heredia has been listed as inactive after injuring his left knee against the Bison in last Saturday’s win.

“They are four of our best players and are all big losses for us,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “Now it just becomes an opportunity for other guys who haven’t seen much ice time to play more. We are going to need them to step up because it’s a huge weekend for us.”

Without Heredia and Chubirka, the Illini will be forced to switch up a few lines in hopes of replacing the offense both players usually provide.

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J.J. Heredia is currently ranked third of the Illini with 21 points on nine goals and 12 assists. He has played in every game so far this season, while Chubirka, one of the Illini’s assistant captains, has tallied nine points for the Illini in 12 games.

“J.J. and Marshall have both been two of our best players this year,” junior forward Nick Fabbrini said. “Marshall is our most physical player so with him out we’re going to have to be a lot more physical as a team this weekend.”

The Illini are 6-0 in conference games and in a three-way tie for first place with Robert Morris College and Ohio University, with 24 points, and will have a chance to distance themselves from both schools this weekend while both the Eagles and Bobcats have the weekend off from conference play.

“It’s definitely a good opportunity for us to get in the lead in the league early on in the season,” junior forward and team captain Drew Heredia said. “It’ll be good to get off to a good start before we get into our tougher games second semester against teams like Lindenwood, Iowa State and Ohio.”

Kent State comes into the weekend games with an 11-4-1 record, but is 0-4 in CSCHL games. The Golden Flashes began the season red hot, starting the year 9-0 and outscoring opponents 67-23. But since then Kent State is just 2-4-1 and is coming off back-to-back losses at Ohio last weekend in which they were outscored 12-4.

The Golden Flashes are led by junior forward Jason O’Bannon, who is second in the ACHA in points with 33 and tops in the ACHA in assists with 20.

The Illini swept Kent State last season in two games, but not before the Illini got a scare from the Golden Flashes. Kent State took the Illini, 14-0 at the time, to overtime at Kent State in last season’s Friday night contest before falling 3-2 on a goal 59 seconds into the extra period by Illini junior Johnny Liang. Illinois came back the next night and blew out Kent State 7-1.

“On the road it’s going to be important that we show up ready to play,” Cassel said. “We’re not going to be able to take any penalties and we are going to have to do all the little things to give ourselves a chance to win. We’re going to have to play smart.”