Hockey club to host tournament

Erica Magda

Erica Magda

By Wes Anderson

Seven teams and three games stand between Illinois and a sweep of the CSCHL crowns. On their home ice, will the Illini be champs or chokers?

For the first time in 10 years, the Illinois hockey club will host the Central States Collegiate Hockey League tournament this weekend at the Ice Arena. Ranked No. 1 in the country, undefeated on the season and regular season CSCHL champions, the Illini are the presumptive favorite this weekend on their home ice.

However, to accomplish their second goal of the season – win the conference tournament – the Illini will likely have to face some formidable opponents. Here’s a look at Friday’s matchups in the opening round of the “playoffs on the Pond.”

If any team has come close to defeating the Illini this year, it has been Iowa State. Two weeks ago, the Cyclones handed Illinois an early two-goal deficit – in two straight games. However, the Illini clawed back and eventually won both games in overtime.

As the defending tournament champions, the Cyclones will look to repeat their victory over the Illini in last year’s championship game.

Kent State, perennially in the middle of the standings, has lost in the first round in the last four CSCHL tournaments. After early season wins, the Golden Flashes slipped in the standings, ultimately finishing fifth.

Ohio saw its streak of four straight CSCHL regular season titles snapped this season, as losses to Western Michigan, Illinois and Lindenwood dropped the Bobcats to third in the final conference standings.

However, the Bobcats have played well at the Ice Arena, giving the Illini all they could handle in an 11-round, sudden death shootout in January.

Eastern Michigan may well be the most accustomed to the wider confines of Champaign’s “Big Pond”, which is approximately 30 feet wider than a standard hockey rink. Their home games are played at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, which has a wider, olympic-style ice surface. However, the Illini quickly beatthe Eagles on the road last November, winning 7-0 and 6-2.

Had it not been for Illinois, Lindenwood would likely be celebrating its first-ever regular season title.

The Lions’ two losses to the Illini in October were their only blemishes during CSCHL play. Despite coming up short in the standings, the Lions have won 14 of their last 15 games and are poised to make a run deep into the tournament.

Western Michigan has been inconsistent throughout the season, having won against Ohio and Kent State, but losing to Robert Morris and ACHA Division II Michigan. In their last meeting with Lindenwood, the Stallions were swept 8-2 and 5-4.

This season, Illinois has enjoyed a sizeable advantage at the “Big Pond.” With their perfect record, however, the Illini have been approaching games with confidence regardless of the venue.

So far this year, the Illini simply haven’t lost – not at home, not on the road, not in an 11-round shootout or even after falling behind by two goals in two straight games.

Illinois last took home the CSCHL tournament title in 2006 and appears poised to do so again.

The Eagles have had a rough season, scraping into the playoffs by two points over Saint Louis for the last spot.

With only five victories in conference play, the Eagles will need to pull off some miraculous victories to take home the trophy and earn a spot in the ACHA national tournament.

This opening round game will also be a rematch of last week’s series, in which Illinois swept Robert Morris 5-2 and 6-1 in Bensenville, Ill.