Illini hockey tacks on two more wins

By Wes Anderson

After the latest ACHA poll gave the Illinois club hockey team 49 out of 50 first-place votes, the Illini made it known that they did not intend to relinquish their No. 1 ranking anytime soon.

An offensive display that included 13 goals on the weekend and a hat trick by team captain Drew Heredia led Illinois to two impressive victories against No. 17 Eastern Michigan. The Illini shut out the Eagles 7-0 on Friday and earned another sweep with a 6-2 victory on Saturday in Ann Arbor, Mich.

After neither team scored in Friday’s opening period, the Illini flexed their muscle on offense, scoring six times on just 13 shots on goal in the second period. Heredia started the scoring with an unassisted goal at 5:13 into the period, and the visitors scored five more times in the next 13 minutes.

“Once we got that first one in, it kind of opened the floodgates,” Heredia said. “We got a lot of good looks and figured out how to beat their goalie.”

Goaltender Mike Burda recorded his second shutout of the year with the victory, improving his goals against average to 1.81 in six games played.

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    Illinois dominated again on Saturday, breaking an early 2-2 tie with four unanswered goals. Heredia scored his first career hat trick in the finale, capping a four-goal, five-point performance on the weekend. After a tepid offensive start coming off an injury late last season, the senior center has five goals on the year.

    “Things are starting to click a little more,” Heredia said. “I feel more in the groove now.

    Jason Nemeth also found net three times during the series, while Alex Park carded four assists.

    While the Illini were on the road for only the second time all season, they took advantage of something they normally find only at home – a more spacious ice rink. Of the three ice surfaces at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, the teams played the series on one with Olympic-style dimensions, which are wider than an average rink and similar to Champaign’s Ice Arena.

    “We got a little lucky,” Heredia said. “It’s not nearly as big as ours, but that played a little bit to our advantage.”

    The Illini have now won 11 straight games to start the season, a feat not unfamiliar to Chad Cassel’s squad. Illinois won its first 15 games last year, and 18 consecutive games two seasons ago. But with victories this season against the likes of Penn State, Lindenwood and Central Oklahoma, the Illini may have proven more this season than in years past.

    “We’ve fought through some tough teams right off the bat,” Heredia said.