Illini hockey looks to stuff the birds

Illinois Forward Tony Razik (15) shoots a goal past the Indiana defense during the match in Champaign on Friday. The Illini will play two home games against Iowa this weekend. Erica Magda

Illinois Forward Tony Razik (15) shoots a goal past the Indiana defense during the match in Champaign on Friday. The Illini will play two home games against Iowa this weekend. Erica Magda

By Alex Paull

The Big Ten matchups for the Illinois hockey team keep coming, with the Illini preparing to host Iowa this weekend. This will be the third consecutive Big Ten opponent the Illini have faced, but surprisingly the first encounter against the Hawkeyes.

“I think it’s great,” head coach Chad Cassel said. “Obviously it’s something fans can relate to. We’ve never played them before, so it’s exciting. They have a good team, knocking off Iowa State earlier this year, so it should be a good series.”

To sweep or be swept has been the question facing the Illini after their previous two series.

Before sweeping Indiana last weekend, Illinois lost both games at Penn State two weeks ago. Against Iowa, the Illini are hoping it’s more of the former.

“We just need to play more consistent each and every night,” Cassel said.

“When the national tournament rolls around it’s single elimination so we can’t play well one night and take the next night off.”

Although a pair of wins over a mediocre Hoosiers team is a nice note to head into this series on, Iowa is no Indiana.

While they are considered a Division-II team, the Hawkeyes sit atop the standings of the Mid-America Collegiate Hockey Association and feature senior Kyle Jacobson, who has 59 points on the season – 23 points more than the next closest skater.

Regardless of their numbers, though, the Illini don’t seem too worried.

“As a goalie you can’t fear any one player,” goalie Mike Burda said. “Our defense is pretty strong and we have goal scorers of our own, so we’ll be OK. I think we are the better team.”

While confidence and excitement are helpful, familiarity with some of the opposing players may make the difference.

Some of the players on the Illini are familiar with a few Hawkeye players from their high school days, most notably starting goalie Will Dodge.

While players like Burda and captain Jordan Pringle feel it will be exciting to renew old rivalries, knowing their skill sets won’t hurt either.

“I think it definitely helps,” Pringle said. “Giving tips on where to shoot and attack them. It is good motivation for some of our guys to play better against them.”

Whether the familiarity will actually help remains to be seen. Either way, without seniors Jason Nemeth and Johnny Liang for Friday’s game due to suspensions, the Illini will need strong and physical play to slay another Big Ten foe – something the recently tougher Illini are more than ready for.

“I think it will be a battle of two really hard-fighting teams, similar to last week’s games against Indiana,” Pringle said. “The power play will be different with Nemeth and Liang out, but we have guys who can come in and step up. A lot of physical play, but very exciting.”