Illini hope for rebound against Michigan team

Illini hope for rebound against Michigan team

By Jason Grodsky

After running its winning streak to 15 to open the 2006-07 season the Illinois men’s hockey club suffered its first loss of the year on the road against the Kent State Golden Flashes.

With four key players out with various injuries, the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s (ACHA) No. 1-ranked Illini (15-1) fell to No. 15-ranked Kent State 3-1 in game two of the two-game series on Nov. 17-18.

With its first loss behind them, the Illini will look to get back on track this weekend in a pair of games against No. 8-ranked University of Michigan-Dearborn at the University of Illinois Ice Arena at 7 p.m.

“Our team is fired up coming off the loss against Kent State,” sophomore defenseman Mike Mannina said. “We feel really bitter about losing to Kent State because we got physically outplayed. Winning these last two games and improving our record to 17-1 would be a huge confidence booster going into break.”

If Illinois is to put together another win streak heading into the semester break it will have to improve on its special teams.

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In their loss before Thanksgiving break the Illini were 0-for-10 on the power play and allowed all three of Kent State’s goal to come via the power play.

“We’ve spent a lot of time working on the power play in practice,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “There was really no excuse for our power play because we had our top line intact at Kent and still went 0-for-10. With the amount of talent we have on this team, that’s just unacceptable.”

Despite the loss, the Illini still managed to capture sole possession of first place in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League (CSCHL) with its win in the first game. The Illini are 7-1 in the CSCHL and hold a four-point lead in the standings over second-place Ohio University and Robert Morris.

The Illini will look to extend its lead in the CSCHL when the Wolves of Michigan-Dearborn visit the Big Pond.

The Wolves (10-7-1) are currently tied for fifth place in the CSCHL and are led by a handful of the ACHA’s top scorers.

The Wolves currently have four of the top seven point leaders in the ACHA lacing up the skates for them. Among them are senior forward Steve Rademacher and junior defenseman Matt Chromy. Rademacher leads the ACHA in total points and goals this season with 41 and 31, respectively, while Chromy is tied for second in points with 39 and has totaled an ACHA-leading 29 assists on the year.

“Dearborn has a great program and obviously is very good offensively,” Cassel said. “They score a lot of goals and we’re going to have to concentrate a lot in the defensive zone. I have confidence in every guy I put out on the ice that they can do the job defensively.”

Michigan-Dearborn will be the fifth ranked team the Illini will have faced so far this season, but will be the first team it plays ranked in the top 10 in the ACHA. So far, Illinois is 7-1 against ranked teams.

Illinois beat Michigan-Dearborn 5-1 and 3-1 in the two team’s only meetings last season at the Illinois Ice Arena.

“It’s two more league games and even though it’s the last two games of the first semester the momentum will still carry over to second semester,” junior forward Drew Heredia said. “We just have to come out and set the tempo for another winning streak.”