Injured hockey players to return against rival Lindenwood

For nearly a month the Illinois hockey lineup has been a revolving door of injuries. Justin Wirt has not played since the seventh game of the season, Austin Bostock missed three games in the middle of the semester with a thumb injury, and now Angelo Sakellarapoulos is recovering from a knee injury sustained Oct. 29.

This weekend, as the Orange and Blue prepare to face the No. 1 Lindenwood University Lions, it appears some injury relief is on the horizon.

Wirt will make his return after missing the last seven games. The power play leader comes back after scoring six points in the first seven contests he participated in.

“He’s the quarterback of our powerplay and was doing really well before he got hurt at the beginning of the year,” captain Tim Gilbert said. “It’ll be good to have him back up top.”

Wirt has not only been a factor offensively, but in his own end as well. Head coach Chad Cassel referred to Wirt as the team’s best defenseman, and he will contribute to a struggling penalty killing unit that has yielded four goals in their last 10 opportunities.

“He’s a leader back there; he’s one of our alternate captains.” Gilbert said. “All around he’s going to help us out, not just on the power play.”

Possibly joining Wirt in a return to the lineup is goaltender Sakellarapoulos. The sophomore has only given up eight goals in seven starts and has two shutouts in his first semester with Illinois.

“We’re hoping Angelo is able to play this weekend,” Cassel said. “He skated a few days this week and he’ll go full blast (Thursday).”

The options for the Illini if Sakellarapoulos is unable to play include sophomore Lucas Lambert — who has appeared in just one period this season — and junior Brett Carey, who led the team to a victory over No. 12 Robert Morris last Saturday. Derek Nick, who was once the Illini starting goaltender, is no longer on the roster listed on the team’s website.

“If for some reason Angelo cannot play, I couldn’t tell you at this point who will play,” Cassel said.

Goaltending issues aside, the Illinois-Lindenwood rivalry is well documented. The Lions have been on a tear after the Illini won the 2008 national championship, winning the next two national titles. Since 2005 the edge has gone to the Illini, who have won 12 of the last 22 games. However, since 2008, Illinois has won just two of the last 11 games, including a shootout win at the Lions’ rink last season. Both squads usually find themselves playing their best hockey against these league rivals and fans should expect more of the same this weekend.

“Everyone is excited to play,” Gilbert said. “The No. 1 team is coming to town and they’ve always been a rival of ours. These two teams don’t like each other at all.”