CORAZZI’S CORNER: NATIONALS EDITION – VOLUME III
Heading into their final round robin games, both Illinois and California both knew they could not change their overall seeds pool play regardless of the outcome. Illinois had locked up the 1 seed with their previous victory over Slippery Rock, and California couldn’t move out of 4th even if they won. However, this did not mean the game wouldn’t go down to the wire, as parity has been the word all weekend. Jimmy DeGrado got the nod in net for the Illini.
The game started with California winning the faceoff and immediately establishing control. However, after slowly regrouping in their own zone, California had the puck knocked away at center while trying to enter the Illinois zone. Justin Acton picked up the loose puck and entered into the Golden Bears’ zone on a 2 on 1 with CJ O’Neil. Acton waited out the defenseman and slid the puck over to O’Neil, who took it back against the grain for a 1-0 Illini lead just 26 seconds into the game. Less than 5 minutes later, Jeremy Dombro found Acton streaking in back door with a slick pass, and Acton redirected it home to double the Illinois lead. From that point on, California knew it couldn’t come back playing a run-and-gun style against Illinois, and they started to slow the game down and hold the puck in their own zone, patiently waiting for a strong breakout opportunity. With just under two minutes left, the Golden Bears set up in the Illini zone and started to work the puck around the outside. Some nice passing led to some in-close opportunities, and DeGrado came up with multiple big saves, but the Illini defense couldn’t clear the puck out. It was only a matter of time before another rebound shot went in, and the Illini lead was cut in half going into the 2nd.
Again, the second period was more of the same with California winning most of the face-offs and taking the puck back into their own zone to set up. Illinois wouldn’t budge on defense, however, and with just over 4 minutes left their strong play would be rewarded. Mickey Salva looked possessed as he back checked a California forward. With one swipe of the stick, Salva came in and took the puck the other way with a f full head of steam. Barreling in on the defenseman, Salva used his speed to cut to the slot to the right and fired a slap shot low and to the left, beating the goaltender blocker side for a 3-1 Illinois lead. Just under two minutes later, Salva would pick up a pass from Acton and head into the Golden Bears zone on a 3 on 2 with Acton and Corazzi. Salva slid the puck over to Corazzi to his left, and a quick pass right back saw Salva rip a one-timer right under the crossbar, again blocker side. In a matter of minutes, Salva had given the Illini a 4-1 lead to take into the 3rd period.
Once again, Illinois was heading into the third period with a comfortable lead. However, in the previous two games Illinois had surrendered three unanswered goals to allow teams back into games. Illini simply tried to keep playing the same way, but just 2 minutes into the 3rd California would score on a nice cross ice one-timer to cut the Illini lead to two. Once again, Illinois was finding it difficult to keep up their defensive flow from the 1st two periods, and California would score again with just over 6 minutes left to play. However, Illinois was determined to end their unfavorable trend and just twenty seconds later Corazzi picked up a loose puck and found himself all alone in the slot. A nice wrist shot low to the stick side beat the goalie, and Illinois’ two-goal lead was restored. California still continued to be patient with their breakout, however, and did a good job of spreading the Illini out. However, Jim DeGrado came up with clutch saves throughout the third to keep the game 5-3. With just over a minute left, California would pull their goalie and maintain heavy pressure inside the Illini zone. Working the puck to the top, a California wrist shot seemed to have eyes as it made its way through an Illini defender, off another Illinois stick, and sailed past a screened DeGrado, careening off the post and in to make the score 5-4. Illinois would lose the ensuing faceoff, and California once again set up inside the Illini zone. However, the Illini defenders would keep the Golden Bears to the outside, and DeGrado would take care of the rest, allowing CJ O’Neil to pot his second goal of the game into an empty net and giving the Illini a 6-4 victory. With a 3-0 round robin record, Illinois then played 4th seeded University of New Orleans from pool C in their first elimination game.
1. Justin Acton
2. CJ O’Neil
3. Mickey Salva