Illini hockey hits the road for 1st time this season

The Illinois hockey team will travel on the road for it’s first away game of the season this weekend against Eastern Michigan, a team the Illini have not lost to since 2005. Since it’s last defeat at the hands of the Eagles, Illinois has dominated Eastern Michigan, out scoring them 98 to 25 in 14 games.

The Illinois hockey team will travel on the road for it’s first away game of the season this weekend against Eastern Michigan, a team the Illini have not lost to since 2005.

Since it’s last defeat at the hands of the Eagles, Illinois has dominated Eastern Michigan, out scoring them 98 to 25 in 14 games.

But Illini head coach Chad Cassel claims this year is different. Cassel’s team, which added 16 new players, faces an Eastern Michigan club that has brought in 20 new players and a new head coach.

“I think they are going to be much stronger than they have been,” Cassel said. “I talked to (Eastern Michigan head coach Kevin Gee) earlier this week and he’s excited about their team. He feels that they are much stronger immediately than they have been the last couple of years. He’s bringing in some high-end junior league players, so it’s going to be very difficult for us.”

In a season of changes for both teams, the match-up between the two clubs will be unique, as it is the first time the two have played each other since Eastern Michigan dropped out of the Illini’s division this season.

“They were in our league, and it’s kind of weird for me this year that they are not in our league,” captain Tim Gilbert said. “We hear they have a lot of new guys and they are supposed to be a really good team this year. A lot of guys know this is going to be a challenging weekend, especially with this being the first road weekend of the year. Our guys are anxious to get out there and play.”

In order for Illinois to continue it’s winning streak against Eastern Michigan, Cassel knows he is going to need a stronger effort from his defense, which he described as “terrible” after Saturday night’s game.

“Especially on Saturday night we had guys trying to do way too much,” Cassel said. “They were not making smart plays, they were not chipping pucks to the right areas. The effort wasn’t there as well. It wasn’t a matter of systems, or not knowing where they were supposed to be, it was just effort and not making the right decisions. It was all mental.”

“We brought in the team psychologist, though,” Cassel joked. “Hopefully that will lead to better results this weekend.”

Where the defense has lacked, Cassel’s offensive lines have been a pleasant surprise. With so many new players, it was tough to judge the talent the Illini had on offense.

“The line that I’ve been playing on, we’ve been consistent since the beginning of the year,” said Andrew Cardona, Illinois’ leading goal scorer. “I like playing with them, I think we’ve done well. We stayed together, but it’s still early in the season and everyone is still finding a comfort in playing together.”

Cardona joins freshman Austin Bostock and junior Mike McBride on a line that has scored nine goals in the first four games.

“Chad kept us together, and I think that helps because we’ve had a lot of time to play together and get used to each other,” McBride said. “Especially with the new guy, Austin, he’s played great … I like the guys I’m playing with, we’re playing with a lot of speed.”