Regular season title hangs in balance

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Online Poster

By Dan Berrigan

After 22 games, the regular season title will be decided by just four points.

The Illini head to St. Louis down four points in the season standings, and their only hope to win the league championship rests with a below-.500 Kent State team taking a game from No. 3 Ohio. Despite the odds, senior forward Jim Rogers still believes the team can win the championship.

“It’s definitely a possibility,” Rogers said. “We have to go in strong Friday and Saturday and finish the job.”

To steal first, the Illini have to sweep cellar-dwelling St. Louis on the road – not as easy as it appears on paper. Last year, the Illini dominated St. Louis in every category except the final score, losing in heartbreaking fashion 3-2.

“(The loss) is definitely fresh in everyone’s minds, especially the seniors,” Rogers said.

If the Illini sweep the Billikens this weekend, it would be the first time they have taken all four games from St. Louis.

“We’ve had our opportunities before, but right now we have to,” Rogers said.

But making history isn’t the only reason the Illini want to beat St. Louis.

“It’s definitely a bragging rights game,” Rogers said. “When we go down there, putting the standings aside, it’s definitely about pride. It’s definitely about who has the better team, and the friends you have off the ice aren’t your friends on the ice.”

But, in the end, it is about standings. So what do four points mean in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League?

Four points is a game, a period and, for the Illini, a missed opportunity.

Had Illinois beaten Ohio in the shootout Dec. 4, the Illini would control their own destiny.

“You can second guess, but at the same time it’s over, and there’s nothing we can do about it now,” sophomore defensemen Alex Tauchen said. “I wish we hadn’t made one mistake here, one mistake there, but we did. We have to deal with it.”

All the Illini can do now is win, wait and pray that the Hail Mary pass is completed.

“If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen,” Tauchen said. “We’ll just have to look past it and focus on the league playoffs.”