Hockey hammered in championship

Online Poster

Online Poster

By Dan Berrigan

Sunday afternoon, the Illini’s dreams of taking back the league title quickly turned into a nightmare.

For the second straight year, Illinois fell to Ohio in the championship game, and it wasn’t pretty. The Illini were smoked 5-1.

“I’m disappointed,” said junior forward Mike Roesch. “We played really well those first two games. We came out a little timid (in the finals), and they took it right to us.”

Before the heartbreaking finish, the weekend started off just as planned. The Illini defeated Iowa State 4-2 and mopped up Eastern Michigan 6-2 the next night. Ohio also took care of each of its opponents, setting up a championship game anyone could have predicted.

The outcome, however, came out of nowhere.

“We didn’t (have) as many scoring opportunities as we should have; the power play wasn’t scoring, and some of their goals were just terrible defensive breakdowns that left people wide open in front of our net,” Roesch said.

He said the Illini took too many penalties and weren’t playing smart hockey. Illinois fell behind 3-0 by the end of the second period, and no amount of CPR could bring them back.

“We needed to be perfect in every aspect of the game (against Ohio) and we weren’t,” Roesch said. “There were little things here and there that just killed us.”

The team would be pronounced dead by a score of 5-1 just 20 minutes later.

The cause of death was simple – Illinois choked.

“It seemed like everything just fell apart,” said sophomore goaltender Mike DeGeorge. “We were scrambling a lot. I don’t want to make any excuses because there aren’t any for what happened.”

It was supposed to be a weekend the Illini hockey club would provide answers to whether the team truly was the best in the league. But now Illinois is left battered and with only questions.

“Seems like every time we get into big games we are either right there with them or we are blown away like Sunday,” DeGeorge said. “We have to figure out what it is we can do before nationals.”

But time is running out for the Illini, and they are likely going to be without freshman defensemen Ricky Gomez for nationals. Gomez suffered a third-degree separation of his shoulder Friday against Iowa State and has been a solid young defenseman for the Illini. Sophomore Phil Gerber filled in for Gomez Saturday and Sunday, and senior forward Jim Rogers said Gerber has been doing a good job.

After the loss, DeGeorge does believe the Illini can learn from it and become a better team as a result.

“The guys are taking it as a learning experience, and nobody is really getting down on one another,” DeGeorge said. “We just have to work our tails off for nationals.”

The loss Sunday doesn’t put the Illini in uncharted waters. They have been in the top tier of club hockey for the last few years and have had some of the best players in the country. However, they have yet to play in the finals for a national championship and have only won the league tournament once.

“We got off on the wrong foot and didn’t play our game,” Rogers said. “We weren’t hitting when we should have; our passes were a little off. Hopefully, if we have a rematch, we can prove we are more talented and put this past us.”

At this point Rogers said instead of pointing fingers and assigning blame, each player on the team has to look in the mirror and ask themselves, “What do I need to bring to this team that I didn’t bring to the championship game?”