Hockey sweeps Eagles to clinch second seed

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois men’s hockey team finished its Central States Collegiate Hockey League regular season with a two-game sweep over interstate rival Robert Morris.

The No. 1-ranked Illini bounced back from their two losses in Ohio the previous week by defeating the Eagles 5-3 and 5-1 on Friday and Saturday nights at the University of Illinois Ice Arena.

With the wins, the Illini locked up the second seed for the CSCHL conference tournament this weekend in Athens, Ohio.

Illinois came out with a point to prove on Friday night.

The Illini opened the scoring just five minutes into the game with an unassisted goal by junior Nick Fabbrini. Illinois would strike twice more in the first period via its special teams.

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Junior forward Johnny Liang scored a power-play goal with assists by Fabbrini and senior forward Marshal Chubirka, and sophomore forward Jason Nemeth added a short-handed goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Illinois added another goal to the scoreboard within moments of the start of the second period when freshman defense man Pierce Butler found the back of the net for his first career goal as an Illini.

Leading 4-0, the Illini relaxed a little too much, allowing Robert Morris to score two power-play goals and pull within two goals early in the third period.

But Illini senior forward Mike Kincaid put the game away for the Illini with his eighth goal of the season to help give the Illini a 5-3 win.

“We jumped off to an early lead, but we weren’t playing very well,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “We have to play at a high level no matter who we’re playing, and players may have let up a little when we got up to a big lead.”

Saturday night would start out much like the previous night as Fabbrini once again put the Illini on the scoreboard with his second goal of the weekend just three minutes into the first period.

A goal by Chubirka with under a minute left in the first period gave Illinois a 2-0 lead heading into the second period.

But instead of a slight letdown like the previous night, the Illini continued to light the lamp, scoring twice in the second period with goals from Nemeth and fellow sophomore Jordan Pringle.

Chubirka added his second goal of the game midway through the third period to extend the Illini’s lead to 5-0.

Illinois senior goaltender Mike DeGeorge looked as if he was on his way to a shutout win, but with just four minutes left in the game, the Eagles managed to slip a puck past DeGeorge on a power play to ruin his bid for his fourth shutout of the year.

“Mike wasn’t really tested a lot, but when they got a few shots, there were pretty high-quality scoring opportunities, and he just shut them down,” Cassel said.

The two wins improve the Illini to 26-4 overall and leave them with a 14-4 conference record. Illinois’ 14-4 CSCHL record marks the fifth time in the last six seasons that Illinois has tallied 14 or more wins in its conference.

With the second seed in the CSCHL tournament, Illinois will face seventh-seeded Eastern Michigan in the opening round next weekend.

“I thought Saturday night was one of our better efforts of the season, and it was a good momentum builder,” Cassel said. “Hopefully we can have a good week of practice and carry it into the tournament.”

Illini hockey playoff history

This year’s CSCHL tournament will be held at Ohio University where the second-ranked Illini will play seventh-ranked Eastern Michigan on Friday at 4 p.m. Over the last few years, the Illinois men’s hockey team has been successful in the playoffs:

  • 2005-’06 season: Tournament champions
  • ’04-’05: Runner-up to Ohio University
  • ’03-’04: Runner-up to Ohio University
  • ’02-’03: Tournament champions