Illini seek home win to end streak

Illini seek home win to end streak

By Jason Grodsky

After putting together the longest winning streak in Illinois men’s hockey club history, the Illini have put together the longest losing streak in six years.

The American Collegiate Hockey Association’s No.1-ranked Illini have lost their last four games and will most likely lose their hold on the top spot in the ACHA rankings when the newest poll is released Friday.

More importantly, the Illini have dropped to third place in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League, behind second-ranked Ohio and fifth-ranked Iowa State. This leaves the Illini relying on a lot of help from other teams in the conference if they are to capture their first title since 2003.

“Basically now we have to win out,” senior forward Mike Roesch said. “We have to take care of the rest of our league games and then worry about the league tournament and then move onto nationals.”

Illinois’ power play and penalty kill were its strength in its first 18 games of the season, scoring 44 power play goals and giving up only 10. But in their four losses, the special teams have been their major weakness.

The Illini penalty kill allowed three goals against Ohio, while being held to one goal on 13 power play opportunities. The next weekend at Penn State proved no better as the Illini gave up five power-play goals and netted only two. In all, the Illini were outscored on special teams for the first time this season in both sets of games.

“We’ve been changing a couple things up since the losses,” Roesch said. “I think we just need to get back to basics. We’re playing a lot better teams this semester. We have to get used to practicing at a higher level because we’re playing better competition.”

The Illini will look to get back on track this weekend when they return home for a pair of non-conference games against North Dakota State.

In preparation for the games this weekend, the Illini have shaken things up a bit in practice, testing out different lines in attempts to regain the offensive power that lead them to 18-straight wins.

“We’ll do a lot of line work in practice,” junior goaltender Mike DeGeorge said. “We’ve been shifting around the lines a lot. Everybody’s playing with somebody different and we’ll have to work to get everybody used to their new linemates.”

In addition to adjusting to new lines and improving the special teams, Illinois players said there has been an emphasis on improving its defensive effort in practices this week.

The Illini should also get some needed help this weekend when they welcome the Bisons to town. They are back at home and playing in front of their loyal fans – an advantage the Illini haven’t had since their victories over Michigan on Dec. 2-3.

“Coming back home will be nice,” Roesch said. “We’ve been playing in other team’s barns in front of big crowds, so it’s going to be nice to come home and play in front of a big crowd of our own.”

North Dakota State comes into the games Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. at the University Ice Arena fighting for a spot in the ACHA National Tournament. This will be the first-ever meeting between the two teams.

“From what I hear they have a pretty good squad,” Roesch said. “They are a top-20 team. We can’t take them lightly, especially with the last couple weeks because every game from here on out is a big one.”