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The Daily Illini

Hockey sweeps McKendree, off to 8-0 start

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James McGing (13) skates down the ice in a breakaway against the Chicago Cougars at the Ice Arena on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

James McGing (13) skates down the ice in a breakaway against the Chicago Cougars at the Ice Arena on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

James McGing (13) skates down the ice in a breakaway against the Chicago Cougars at the Ice Arena on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016.

By Erich Fisher, Staff writer

Illinois hockey remains undefeated on the season after sweeping McKendree University at home this weekend.

The Illini got off to their third straight slow start when the Bearcats jumped up 2-0 in the first game.

However, it was all Illinois after that, scoring four unanswered goals to take the 4-2 victory.

Senior forwards James McGing and Grant Stueve both netted goals in the first period, and freshman defenseman Jack Graham buried a shot right off the faceoff to give him his second goal of the season.

Coming into the season, Graham did not see himself having this much of an impact this early for the Illini, but he has become a staple on the third defensive line.

“It’s been about getting to know the guys and getting comfortable here,” Graham said. “I’m just going to keep working hard, and hopefully, they keep going in.”

Sophomore forward Robert Ernsting put the game out of reach for the Bearcats late in the third period when he scored a breakaway goal.

The Illini caught the Bearcats in the middle of a line change and proceeded to take advantage of it as Ernsting managed to break loose, get the puck on the Bearcats blue line, then stop on a dime to allow the incoming defender to go by and bury the shot under senior goaltender Andrew Best’s glove side.

After struggling right out of the gate, Illinois came together defensively. McKendree only had seven shots on goal in the second and third periods.

The domination continued for the Illini as there was no “Saturday slump” for them in the game, defeating the Bearcats 6-1.

Freshman forward Andrew Richter led the way in the game, scoring two goals, one of which was a breakaway when he went forehand then backhand to beat Best’s five-hole.

Richter was the only repeat scorer for Illinois, as the team got goals out of five different players, arguably its most impressive stat of the night.

The win helped put Illinois head coach Nick Fabbrini’s club to 8-0 on the season, something he said he was expecting.

“If you asked us when the season started, this was what we were expecting,” Fabbrini said. “And now, the schedule really gets tough.”

Even though he was not able to put one in the back of the net himself, freshman forward Evan Sabo picked up  the first point of his Illini career when he connected with freshman defenseman Joe Nolan on a two-on-one attack to score the game’s first goal.

“It’s a relief,” Sabo said. “Obviously, I’ve been working hard to get points, and obviously, they will come, but to get my first point like that was really relieving,”

The second period was all in Illinois, as it blanked McKendree with three goals in the period.

Senior forward Eric Cruickshank kicked off the scoring early in the period and was then followed up by his linemate Stueve and sophomore forward Chance Homerin.

Only one goal would be scored in third period, with Richter getting his second of the game.

The Illini will finally be heading into conference action in a couple of weeks when they head to Lindenwood for a weekend series, who is one of the better teams in the ACHA at the moment.

“They’re going to be the first team we’ve played that can really create offense on their own,” Fabbrini said. “It’s going to be key for us that we make sure we take care of the puck and playing a simple game early.”

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