Illini hockey No. 1 despite loss



By Jason Grodsky

Even though the Illinois men’s hockey team experienced its first sweep in over a year at the hands of the Ohio Bobcats, the Illini are still ranked No. 1 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association and still have their eyes on the big prize, an ACHA National Championship.

The Illini (24-4, 12-4) will look to get back on track this weekend when the Eagles of Robert Morris College (14-14-2, 9-7-2) come to Champaign. Illinois will host the Eagles at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at the University of Illinois Ice Arena.

“We really have to work on finishing this weekend,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “We had a lot of high quality chances last week and didn’t score. As long as we work hard and take advantage of our scoring opportunities, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Illinois scored just twice last weekend in its two losses to Ohio and were shut out for the first time in nearly a year. Despite struggling on offense last weekend, the Illini are still one of the top scoring teams in the nation, averaging 5.65 goals per game. However, if Illinois is to avoid losing its third straight game and its first home loss, the Illini will have to improve on finding the back of the net.

“We have good goal scorers on this team, but it just wasn’t happening for us last weekend,” Cassel said. “Their goaltender played out of his mind last week. All we can do is keep shooting and hope that the goals will come.”

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This weekend’s games will be the final games for the Illini in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League. Even though the Illini lost the opportunity to claim the CSCHL regular season title when they lost to Ohio last weekend, Illinois is still playing for seeding placement in the CSCHL Conference Tournament.

Right now the Illini have at least clinched a spot in the conference tournament that will take place in Athens, Ohio on Feb. 16-18.

Illinois is tied for second place in the league with Lindenwood University. Both the Illini and Lions have accumulated 48 points, however, the Lions have completed all of their conference games. If Illinois wins one game this weekend they will clinch the second seed in the tournament.

“It’s important for the psyche of the team to get some wins and head into the league tournament on a positive note,” Cassel said.

While Illinois is playing for the second seed in the tournament, the Eagles are hoping to move up in the seedings in order to avoid playing top-seeded Ohio early in the tournament. Robert Morris is currently placed sixth in the CSCHL with 34 points, but the Eagles could move up as high as fourth if they can upset the Illini this weekend.

Robert Morris is coming off a pair of losses to Lindenwood and are led by forwards Steve LaFrenier, Chris Tasik and Kevin Lee. LaFrenier leads the Eagles with 49 points (23 goals, 26 assists) while Tasik and Lee each have 19 goals this season.

“Robert Morris is a desperate team right now,” Cassel said. “They are right on the bubble as far as making the national tournament and this is going to be a huge opportunity for them since we’re the number one-ranked team.”