Hockey falls short of capturing title in Central States tournament



By Jason Grodsky

For the fifth straight season and 16th time overall, the Illinois men’s hockey club made an appearance in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League tournament championship game, but the Illini allowed the tournament title to slip through their fingers.

Despite scoring a combined 18 goals in the tournament’s first two rounds, the second-seeded Illini were unable to muster enough offense in the final game, resulting in a 5-3 upset victory for fourth-seeded Iowa State on Sunday morning in Athens, Ohio.

“We had our worst game of the season on Sunday,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “It was pretty disappointing for us because it was the biggest game of the year up to this point.”

Illinois found itself trailing to the Cyclones early in the championship game. Iowa State scored just 31 seconds into the contest and continued to fire away at Illinois senior goalie Mike DeGeorge.

The Cyclones found the back of the net twice more in the first period to grab a 3-0 lead and force Cassel to pull DeGeorge, who in the two previous tournament games had allowed just five goals on 51 shots.

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“The third goal they scored was a soft goal, and I was just trying to change up the momentum of the game a little bit by taking Mike out,” Cassel said. “It wasn’t Mike’s fault, but I think he would’ve liked to have the third goal back.”

Illinois found its legs in the second period, scoring two power-play goals by juniors Alex Park and Nick Fabbrini in the first five minutes of the second period. But Iowa State struck back just a minute later to push its lead back to two goals.

The two-goal lead didn’t last long for the Cyclones. Just 16 seconds after Iowa State extended its lead to 4-2, Illini freshman Mark Ergun pulled Illinois back within one with just his second goal of the season. Iowa State scored its fifth goal of the game on a power play with just under 10 minutes left in the second period and turned the reigns over to its senior goaltender Trent Baker. Baker shut down the Illini in the third period and helped earn Iowa State its 12th CSCHL Tournament title. It was the eighth meeting between Illinois and Iowa State in the CSCHL tournament title game. With the loss, the Illini fell to 3-5 against the Cyclones in CSCHL championship games.

“They obviously came ready to play, and we didn’t,” Cassel said. “After we heard they beat Ohio on Saturday, our guys just thought they had to show up and go through the motions, and they would hand us the tournament. It’s just disappointing because it was such a big game.”

While the Illini failed to defend its 2005-06 tournament title, they did manage to score the most goals out of any team in the tournament, tallying 21 goals in three games while allowing just 10. Leading the way for the Illini were Park and sophomore Jason Nemeth, who both tallied six points on the weekend each with a goal and five assists. Junior Johnny Liang and senior Marshall Chubirka each finished the tournament with five points a piece and freshman J.J. Heredia recorded a hat trick in just under six minutes in the Illini’s 10-1 first-round victory over Eastern Michigan.

“The balance has been great all season for us,” Cassel said. “All four lines scored for us. But unless we stop giving up a lot of goals, we’re not going to be able to go far in the national tournament.”