Don’t miss history as it unfolds on ice rink

By Dave Fultz

If you read the top sports story in Monday’s paper, you’re probably well of aware of our club hockey team.

The Illini swept the Ohio University Bobcats over two games this weekend – including an amazing victory in an 11-round sudden death shootout on Saturday night – to improve their record to 25-0-0 on the season.

The Friday night game was almost as entertaining. Three fights broke out, there were more than 20 minutes in penalties and two players were ejected. Oh yeah, and the Illini won in a 5-0 rout.

Goaltender Mike Burda stopped 42 of the 43 shots he faced this weekend and has a ridiculous 93.08 percent save percentage in the 14 games he has started this season.

Junior forward Jason Nemeth has racked up 48 points (20 goals, 28 assists) in just 25 games this year.

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    So, needless to say, these guys are kind of a big deal and you should go out and see one of their games before it’s too late.

    I’m not trying to say that the hockey team is starving for fans because that is far from the truth. The Ice Arena was packed to the brim on Friday night (when I attended my first game of the season) and many fans were more than happy to find standing-room-only seats behind the glass at ice level.

    The atmosphere at these games is really something that can’t be duplicated anywhere else. The biggest fans of the team – the die-hard bunch that calls itself the Harassing Illini – are truly one of a kind.

    To be honest, chanting, “It’s all your fault!” at the opposing goalie when Illinois scores is almost as fun as watching the Illini wipe the ice with their opponents, which they do routinely.

    So this column isn’t meant to help out a team struggling to find a following, but more a call to all of you sports fans to go and watch this orange and blue squad try to make history, because you’ll regret it if you don’t.

    I’ll admit that I’m not a big hockey fan, but for those of us from the Chicago-land area there is a bit of a reason for that.

    Bill Wirtz, the former owner of our Chicago Blackhawks, refused to televise his team’s home games for years and many of us were therefore deprived of hockey during our childhoods.

    Because of this travesty, my exposure to hockey growing up was limited to “SportsCenter” highlights, Coach Gordon Bombay and the epic “Mighty Ducks” trilogy, and the always amazing “Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey” for the Nintendo 64.

    But now the Blackhawks are back on television and they are once again watchable for the first time since Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick roamed the United Center ice. Now I find myself in the middle of a personal hockey reclamation project.

    So maybe I’m pushing my struggle to bring hockey into my life off on all of you who have read this far, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need to go out and watch the Illini.

    The team is about to begin its chase for a Central States Collegiate Hockey League championship, a chance at the national crown and maybe even perfection.

    The 2008 CSCHL Tournament (the equivalent of the conference tournament for men’s basketball) is being held in Champaign on Feb. 15-17. The Illini are idle at 25-0-0 until Friday night, when they play the first of four straight road games before the tournament begins.

    I’m not trying to get you to drive yourself all the way to Iowa State or Robert Morris for these away games, but the Illini return to the Ice Arena to open the CSCHL tournament at home on Feb. 15, and you should be there.

    I don’t care whether you drive, walk, bike, or sled your way to the corner of Fourth and Armory, just so long as you get there and you give the hockey team a crowd to be proud of.

    Many of us were denied a real chance to be hockey fans as kids and we were deprived of a lot of great moments, so don’t let this be another one.

    You have a chance to be a part of history. Don’t miss out.

    Dave Fultz is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]