Heredia, Fatigato step up after Cardona goes down

While the special teams remained a concern over the weekend for the Illinois hockey team, it was also a weekend filled with arrivals, departures and discoveries regarding the forwards corps.

Friday night marked the first game back for leading goal scorer JJ Heredia, who had been sidelined the last several weekends due to a dislocated shoulder. With Illinois struggling to generate goals, Heredia’s return paid dividends immediately, to the tune of a goal and an assist in the win over Michigan-Dearborn.

“I thought JJ was good,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “He’s still not where we need him to be or where he wants to be, but he feels good and gained some confidence and played well out there.”

Moving from his traditional center position to the wing, Heredia showed no signs of rust, as he netted the game’s first goal eight minutes in off a nice move in front of the net and then assisted on forward Daniel Cohen’s goal seven minutes into the second period.

Though the move to wing didn’t affect Heredia’s offensive production, it did help him in the way of making sure he didn’t become too offensive-minded.

“It felt good compared to center, a little different, always on the board,” Heredia said. “There is a little more responsibility on defense, but it’s good with Tim Gilbert out there, who is good defensively. I can get a little too offensive-minded, so it was good being on the wing.”

Despite any concerns about becoming more vulnerable to bigger hits along the boards, Heredia’s move to wing also seemed to crush any worries about the shoulder, too.

“The first shift I kind of got a puck in deep and got hit, but it was good because I didn’t have to worry about it the rest of the weekend,” Heredia said. “There was nagging pain, but that is something that’s going to be there the rest of the season, so I just have to play through it.”

The departed

As excited as the Illini were to get one forward back, Heredia’s return coincided with the loss of another.

Junior Andrew Cardona, arguably one of the best players on the Illini this semester and the team’s leading scorer in Heredia’s absence, shattered his jaw during practice last week and will be out for the remainder of the season.

“Andrew Cardona is feeling good, on a lot of pain medication, but he sounded a lot better Saturday,” Cassel said. “He sounded better than he has in a while and will be going back in to get everything checked out.”

The injury took place during power-play drills last week, when Cardona ducked his head for a split second and caught a Joe Sullivan shot that caught him below the bottom of the caged helmet.

But perhaps showing how important he has become to the offense and how huge of a loss the injury is to the team, Cardona’s first sentiments following the injury didn’t surround his jaw, but rather how he will not be on the ice to help the rest of the team in postseason play.

“He’s one of our leading goal scorers this semester, and we’ve obviously been missing him,” Cassel said. “When he broke his jaw, his first thought wasn’t about his jaw, but that he couldn’t play in the league tournaments.”

The hot hand

While one top goal-scorer came back to replace another one, the Illini got an additional scoring boost last weekend from an unlikely source.

Sophomore Sam Fatigato, a defensive and penalty-kill specialist for the Illini, netted two goals during the CSCHL Tournament — his first two of the season.

Fatigato collected his first goal four minutes into the second period Friday against Michigan-Dearborn, when he picked up an errant Wolves pass and made a nice pass fake before slipping the puck past goaltender Paul Petrous.

On Saturday, Fatigato provided the lone tally in a 4-1 loss to Lindenwood with a goal seven minutes into the second period ato two.

While his score didn’t help much in Saturday’s loss, Fatigato might have saved his “offensive outburst” for the right time.

“Sam’s never going to be a goal-scorer,” Cassel said. “He works hard, he’s an outstanding penalty killer. When you can get goals, especially in tournament games out of players like Sam, it’s big boost to the team.”