Four Illini, Team USA return from tournament

By Jason Grodsky

After a three-week trip to Italy for the Winter World University Games, four of the Illinois men’s club hockey players returned to Champaign alongside their head coach.

Senior forward Marshall Chubirka, junior forwards Drew Heredia and Johnny Liang and junior defenseman Dave Schmitt helped lead the U.S. University Select team to a 1-4 record and an eighth-place finish in the tournament.

The eighth-place finish tied the best finish by the U.S. team since returning to the Games in 2001 with players from the American Collegiate Hockey Association. The team also set or tied several records during this year’s Games, setting the record for most goals in a game (5) and shorthanded goals in a game (2), both set in the U.S.’s 5-2 win over Korea.

“This was definitely the best team that we’ve taken over there,” Illini head coach and Team USA head coach Chad Cassel said. “We were competitive in all the games, which we haven’t been in the past. We had chances but we just weren’t finishing, but our guys still played hard.”

Team USA was led by the Orange and Blue’s own Heredia and Penn State junior forward Michael McMullen. Both players finished the tournament with two goals and an assist apiece. Penn State sophomore forward Lukas DeLorenzo also added three points in the tournament with a goal and two assists.

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“All the guys who went from Illinois played well,” Cassel said. “Schmitt played well on defense, Drew and Marshall scored a few goals and Johnny played well. Marshall was arguably our best forward on the team and played hard and with a lot of energy.”

Heredia became just the third player in U.S. University Select Team history to record a multiple-goal game when he found the back of the net twice in the first period against Korea.

However, Heredia’s ice time with the U.S. University Select Team would be cut short in the same game. In the third period of the U.S. win over Korea, Heredia would have to be helped off the ice due to a broken ankle. Heredia broke his left fibula when his skate caught a rut in the ice causing the ankle to twist, according to Dr. James Moeller, the chief medical officer for the 2007 U.S. Winter World University Games Team.

“It was a freak thing because he was in the corner by himself and just caught an edge and snapped his ankle,” Cassel said. “It could’ve happened just walking down the street. It’s huge loss for us, but I still like our team and know someone will step up.”

Despite the injury to Heredia the four Illini and their coach were able to take in various sites and events in Torino during the teams down time during the competition.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Liang said. “You get to experience a little bit of different cultures you normally wouldn’t get the chance to. We were able to check out some other events such as speed skating and synchronized skating which was actually a pretty cool sport.”

But the Illini’s favorite part of their trip overseas was being able to play with and against some of the world’s best young hockey players.

“Just being able to hang out with the team within the village and getting to know the other guys was a great experience,” Chubirka said. “The talent level was unreal. It was great to put on a USA jersey and play against guys who are playing in their elite pro leagues where guys like Alex Ovechkin come from.”