Club hockey faces No. 2 Lindenwood on unfriendly ice

Senior Jason Nemeth looks to center the puck against Michigan-Dearborn at the Ice Arena last Friday. The Illini prepare to play Lindenwood this weekend. Erica Magda

By Tony Donisch

No. 1 vs. No. 2. Rematch of the National and CSCHL Championship games. A rivalry stained with bad blood.

The much anticipated battle between two of club hockey’s perennial powerhouses will finally take place this weekend.

“They’re the featured games of this whole semester, so if you don’t get pumped for these games, I don’t know what you would get pumped up for,” junior defenseman Brad Hoelzer said.

In a rematch of last year’s ACHA National Championship game, No. 1 Illinois (13-1-0, 6-0-0 CSCHL) travels to St. Charles, Mo., to take on No. 2 Lindenwood (16-1-1, 7-1-0 CSCHL) for a pair of league games Friday and Saturday.

“I think it’s one of the biggest rivalries in the ACHA.” said senior forward Jason Nemeth, who moved into ninth on the all-time Illinois points list after his five-assist effort last Saturday. “We have some bad blood between each other, we always have. It’s going to be a huge matchup for us this weekend for our rankings and for our league standings.

The important series couldn’t come at a more perfect time for the Illini; they are fully rested and more confident than ever. Following a week of light practices and a weekend off, they roughed up league opponent No. 12 Michigan-Dearborn in a series sweep at home last weekend, scoring 19 goals while only allowing two.

“We’re confident going into this weekend,” Nemeth said. “The week off was very helpful for us. We got to rest. … Last week was a huge confidence booster. We played well as a team.”

Playing each other as No. 1 and No. 2 is nothing unusual for the two rivals. The two teams met three times in the regular season last year, with the Illini winning two by a narrow one-goal margin, and the other in shootouts. The teams eventually faced off in the CSCHL Championship game in which the Illini laid claim to the league title and a 4-1 win. Two weeks later, Illinois won the National Championship, 4-2, skating off the ice with the Murdoch Cup and its first undefeated season in team history.

“We know they’re looking to get a little revenge from us,” Nemeth said. “We beat them five times last year, so they’re out to get us this year.”

If the Illini sweep this weekend, they would hold off the Lions from overtaking No. 1 in the rankings and add four points to their total in the Central States Collegiate Hockey League standings, moving into a tie with Lindenwood for the top spot.

With last season’s notable victories against the Lions, all the Illini hope for is that history repeats itself this weekend and gives them even more to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

“Sweeping them this weekend would be huge,” Hoelzer said. “It would let us go into break with a 15-1 record, and that’s just a great accomplishment considering the teams we’ve had to play this year and how many away games we’ve had.”