Senior skate signals start of hockey season

By Dan Berrigan

While the hopes of a 2004 season for the National Hockey League may be on thin ice, hockey in Champaign is just getting started with the Illini hockey club’s senior skate at the Ice Arena.

For two hours the returning Illini scrimmaged before tryouts began Monday, and although it was non-contact, the team looked sharp.

But this is only the first day of a long season for the Illini, which will begin Oct. 1.

From an outsider’s perspective, the team could take a step back this year not only because of the players they lost – goaltender Tim Danlow, the 2003 National Player of the Year, and forwards Pat Olson and Kyle Zabrin, who were the heart of the Illini – but also because of the disappointing finish to last year’s season.

The Illini blew a one-goal lead halfway through the third period of the league tournament finals to Ohio University and finished 5th at nationals, closing out the season two weeks later.

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The team, however, is looking at the positives heading into this year.

“We’re expecting to be as good, if not better than last year,” said senior forward Brett Duncan. “It’s going be a big year for the seniors.”

It certainly looks that way as the Illini still have their triple threat of senior forwards Jim Rogers, Brett Duncan and Brian Coleman, who combined last season for 82 goals. But adding to the uphill battle is a schedule that pits the Illini against seven-time national champion Penn State and defending champion Ohio University.

“We’re excited to play Penn State. It was just two years ago that we beat them in their own barn,” said senior forward Scott Kohler. “When those two teams come here, we’ll show the fans what we can do.”

Looking to fill Danlow’s skates is sophomore goaltender Mike DeGeorge, who had an extremely successful rookie season. DeGeorge was named the Rookie of the Year by the club for his 91.7 save percentage and 2.17 goals against average.

As for leadership, Duncan is confident that someone will step up during the season and fill the void left behind by Olson and Zabrin.

This year’s graduating class may not be the deepest group of players, Duncan said, but they want to show they are certainly one of the best.

“We are trying to go out as the winningest class in Illini hockey history,” he said.