Rested Hockey returns to ice after much-needed week off

By Tony Donisch

After the lull of a weekend off, a rested Illinois hockey team skates back onto its home ice Friday and Saturday for a pair of high energy games against an emerging league opponent.

The off week couldn’t come at a more perfect time for the Illini (11-1-0, 4-0-0 CSCHL). After enduring a six-week stretch of games peppered with road trips to Ohio and Oklahoma, the time for relaxation was just what the players wanted.

“Guys needed the break,” senior forward Jordan Pringle said. “It’s kind of getting to that point in the semester; we had a long string of games in a row. I think it will end up helping us, definitely.”

But junior defenseman Brad Hoelzer noted the players have taken a beating so far in the season, and now senior defenseman Pat Mannina is out for at least the next two series due to a concussion he suffered against Robert Morris College.

“Almost every guy in the locker room had a significant bump or bruise that limited their playing ability,” Hoelzer said.

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Last week, the team practiced 45 minutes to an hour Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday instead of the usual hour and a half. Coach Chad Cassel gave the players the weekend off before their last two series of the semester against conference opponents Michigan-Dearborn and Lindenwood.

“It was just a good opportunity for us to get healthy again,” Cassel said. “With the exception of Pat Mannina, we’re at 100 percent now.”

The first of the two pivotal league series this month comes Friday for the Illini. The team held on to the No. 1 ranking in last weekend’s poll for the 55th straight week, and will try to add eight more league points to their total when they start a two-game set at home against No. 12 Michigan-Dearborn (11-4-1, 1-3-0 CSCHL).

The Wolves were anything but a tough opponent last year, as they stood at the bottom of the CSCHL standings with just one league win. But Michigan-Dearborn has already doubled its five-win total from last year and roll in with a pair of new weapons.

The turnaround is mostly due to freshman duo Michael Macari and James Telfer, who lead the nation in the three major offensive categories. Macari leads the ACHA Division I in goals with 26, while Telfer is first in points with 50 and assists with 29.

“Well obviously we’re going to have to keep a watchful eye out for those two guys, especially defensemen,” said Hoelzer, the leader of a defense that has allowed less than 25 shots per game. “I think if we can control the puck for a good amount of the game, then they’re going to see limited exposure of the puck, and it gives them less chances to score themselves.”

Facing a type of powerful scoring tandem they haven’t seen in quite some time, the Illini are confident their extra rest will provide the energy for slowing the phenoms down.

“You can see that there’s a jump in everyone’s stride in practice this week.” Hoelzer said. “I think we’ll come out fired up for these next few games.”