Hockey looks for first

By Dan Berrigan

There’s no more honeymooning for the Illini hockey team. The toughest challenge of the season will arrive from Ohio, when the defending national champion Bobcats come to town.

“We haven’t played anyone that has really challenged us to this point yet,” senior forward Jim Rogers said. “But hopefully, we can gather some confidence going into break.”

Eight points are on the line, and the Illini are only two points out of first, so if either team can pull out two wins, it will go a long way toward securing a regular season crown.

“Some of the veterans have talked to the rookies this week and let them know about the importance of these games,” junior forward Steve Krates said.

He said Ohio is a tough team to play against, and despite playing them tough, the Illini haven’t defeated the Bobcats since Feb. 16, 2003. The rivalry has been growing from there, and will continue Friday at 7 p.m. And the team is focused on Friday, Rogers said.

“I don’t think anybody is thinking we are going to lose or win,” he said. “We just want to go out there and play and, hopefully, the better team wins.”

Nevertheless, the Illini are unbeaten in their last 11 games and red-hot, while Ohio is 2-1-2 in their last five. But if history is any judge of what the future holds, the Illini are in for an uphill battle.

Ohio knocked the Illini out of the Final Four in 2003. The Bobcats beat the Illini last season in the league championship. Illinois is winless in its last four games against Ohio.

“We know it’s probably going to come down to us two and maybe one other team at the end fighting for that first-place finish in the league,” Rogers said. “So we know it’s very important to take these two at home.”