Hockey to compete in year’s first road series



By Wes Anderson

With a perfect record and top ranking in tow, the Illinois hockey club will head to Ann Arbor, Mich., this weekend for a pair of conference games against No. 21 Eastern Michigan.

Having only played one of their nine games on the road so far this season, the Illini will hope that the momentum gained at the Ice Arena will carry over to a hostile environment.

The No. 1 Illini have dominated at home against ranked opponents, sweeping Central Oklahoma, Penn State and Lindenwood to start the season. But as the Eagles play host to the Illini at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, it will be Illinois’ first road series to count in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League conference standings.

“We’ve always got to take another step,” defenseman Ricky Gomez said. “We got out of the weekend still undefeated and we have to remain focused.”

The series will be the last road games of 2007. After taking on the Eagles, Illinois’ schedule includes a six-game homestand before the Illini’s next road trip on Jan. 4.

Illinois earned eight points from its sweep of Lindenwood and trails No. 4 Ohio in the conference standings by 10 points. In pursuing their goal of a regular season conference title, every point is crucial for the Illini.

The Eagles are 3-3-0 in CSCHL play entering the series and are coming off a home victory against No. 5 Oakland, the defending national champions. Goaltender Eric Schardt, who had 36 saves in the victory, will likely be in the crease for the series.

The Illini will once again be contending with a smaller ice surface than they are accustomed to. Like most hockey rinks, the Ice Cube’s standard width dwarfs that of the Ice Arena. Two weeks ago, the Illini, not used to the smaller rink at Lindenwood, narrowly avoided their first loss of the season, falling behind late before ultimately winning in a shootout.

The Illini have also been affected by injuries as a physical season hits full stride.

“We need everyone to step up and play a little better to fill in some of the gaps,” head coach Chad Cassel said.