Club hockey reaches semifinals of national tournament bracket

By Wes Anderson

Two wins separate the Illinois hockey club from a perfect season and a national title at the ACHA National Championships in Rochester, N.Y.

A 4-1 win against Robert Morris (Pa.) on Saturday and a 6-2 rout of Rhode Island late Sunday propelled the Illini to the semifinals of the tournament for the fourth straight year and improved their unblemished record to 36-0-0.

In Tuesday’s semifinal, the Illini will take on No. 6-seeded Liberty, which pulled off the tournament’s only major upset, against Penn State in the second round. After making the long trip to Rochester, N.Y., the Illini recovered from a slow start in their opening-round game against Robert Morris, as Tom Connell’s goal 18 minutes into the game broke an early 1-1 tie.

From there, Illinois wouldn’t relinquish the lead again as Mike Burda’s 22 saves held the No. 16-seeded Colonials at bay.

Four second-period goals proved to be the difference in the second-round matchup against Rhode Island on Sunday. Illinois again stumbled early, as a spirited Rams offense looking to knock off the tournament’s top seed matched each of the Illini’s first two goals and kept the game deadlocked.

The Rams were eventually worn down by the speed of the Illini attack, however, and senior forward Joey Resch’s unassisted breakaway score started a streak of four unanswered goals that allowed Illinois to advance.

A win against Liberty on Tuesday will send the Illini to the national title game against the winner of the other semifinal, where No. 2 Lindenwood will face No. 4 Delaware.