Offense shows strong in season’s last home game

 

 

By Wes Anderson

Joey Resch banked a pass off a defenseman’s skate for a goal. Drew Heredia made a textbook breakaway pass that led to an easy Johnny Liang score.

Just about everything went right in the Illinois hockey club’s final regular season series against Adrian College.

On senior weekend, the Illini dominated the No. 24 Bulldogs with an 8-2 win Friday and an emphatic 9-0 shutout Saturday at the UI Ice Arena.

The wins improved the No. 1 Illini’s perfect record to 34-0-0 and solidified their status as the favorite heading into next week’s ACHA National Championships.

Despite a sluggish start in the first period of Friday’s series opener, the Illini never trailed in the series, wearing down the Bulldogs with 43 shots on goal in each game.

“This series we really showed our offensive ability,” senior forward Alex Park said. “We had a lot of shots going, a lot of guys had some nice goals. There were some goals where we had to grind it out, but our offense just came through for us.”

Resch and fellow forward Tom Connell each netted three goals in the series, while backup goaltenders D.J. Kohler and Nick Pecoraro each saw action, holding the Bulldogs scoreless on Saturday.

All weekend, emotions ran high for the seniors in their final games at the “Big Pond”. Before Saturday’s series finale, each of the seven seniors was joined by his parents on the ice and honored by head coach Chad Cassel, along with the fans who packed the bleachers to see the Illini for the final time this season.

The list of graduating seniors is littered with talent. Heredia, the team’s captain, leads the Illini with 26 goals scored this year, while Park was described by Cassel as having “an NHL shot.”

Instead of playing in the series finale, Jordan Pringle, Jason Nemeth, and Brad Hoelzer participated in the CSCHL All-Star game in Ohio on Saturday.

Cassel, who does not nominate seniors or goaltenders for the game, said the roster shakeup allowed many players to get more ice time than usual – especially the seniors.

“I told the guys that the seniors would play as much as they wanted, and then a lot of the guys that hadn’t seen the ice much. That was kind of the plan heading in,” Cassel said.

After the final buzzer had sounded, Resch lowered his eyes while describing what it felt like to play in front of the home crowd for the final time.

“It’s emotional right now,” Resch said. “It almost doesn’t even feel like it’s over. The whole game was so surreal.”

This year’s senior class has been pivotal in solidifying Illinois’ status as a national power in club hockey. During their tenures, the Illini have won two conference tournament championships, a regular season conference championship and the 2005 national championship.

In their remaining games, the seniors have a chance to win another national title and do what no Illini team has ever done before – go undefeated.

The only obstacle standing in their way is next week’s National Championships, where the Illini will take on Robert Morris (Pa.) in the tournament’s first round on Saturday.

After everything that’s been accomplished, what will the season mean if the Illini come up short at nationals?

“We won’t,” Resch said.