Illinois hockey look for big game on Alumni weekend

By Alex Paull

After being swept by the Penn State Icers last weekend, the Illinois hockey team (18-4, 11-1) found themselves navigating uncharted waters. With a two-game losing streak for the first time in two seasons, the Illini are feeling the pressure.

The team’s problems with inconsistency will likely result in losing the No. 1 ranking.

While the coaches don’t necessarily see the drop in the rankings as a good thing, the players seem to feel otherwise. The fall from the top could be just what the team has needed all along.

“All good things come to an end,” sophomore Robby Shintani said. “It’s kind of unrealistic to expect a team to go undefeated two seasons in a row. This week in practice we picked it up with Coach Cassel getting on us and lighting a fire under us.”

For senior captain Jordan Pringle, the soon-to-be fall from first is a humbling experience that he thinks will only help in the long run.

“From a preparation and intensity standpoint, I think it will be good that we don’t always think we are the best because I don’t think we are right now, because we aren’t playing like the best team,” Pringle said. “I think that it will help guys to play a little bit harder in practice and in games.”

The timing probably couldn’t be better for the team, either. With a home series against Indiana University (10-10, 2-10), the Illini have a chance to make a statement against a team that has lost six of its past seven games.

The fact that the series falls on Alumni Weekend should only help fuel a strong showing against Indiana.

“It’s definitely exciting to have guys in the stands that you played with and see guys who haven’t been able to come back as much,” Pringle said. “I think it motivates guys to play their best and try to show that this team is just as good, or even better than last year’s.”

Fellow senior Jason Nemeth feels this game is for the guys that donned the Illini colors before him.

“They used to play for us, so we want to show them how good we are and represent them well,” Nemeth said. “So it’s a big game.”

Regardless of the excitement that will surround this weekend’s festivities, seniors like Nemeth and Pringle understand their window of playing time is closing and that the time to pick up their play and lead the team is now.

“It’s a short semester, it flies by fast,” Nemeth said. “We got big games coming up, but we’ve talked about coming together as a group.

“We talked about practice needs to be more up tempo. The passes need to be crisper and a lot more intensity.”

Pringle feels the same way, and he knows it’s the responsibility of the seniors to carry the team.

“After last weekend, the seniors got together and really said we need to make a push here at the end.”