Illini hockey ready to take on “Gang Green” in Ohio

Ned Mulka Daily Illini Illinois’ Jordan Pringle skates over Iowa’s Michael Kempke at the Ice Arena on Friday Jan. 30, 2009. The Illini defeated the Hawkeyes 8-2.

By Alex Paull

While Ohio University isn’t a traditional rival for Illinois sports, the bad blood between the hockey teams might suggest otherwise.

When the Illini (22-4) travel to Athens, Ohio, this weekend, they will renew what they consider their biggest rivalry.

“I just don’t like them in general,” senior Jason Nemeth said of Bobcats (16-13). “It’s going to be huge for us to beat them there. When we win there, it’s going to be fun seeing their fans. It’s a pride issue.”

That pride issue may have something to do with the goose eggs laid at Ohio the last three seasons. Though recent history has been unkind to the Illini, some of the older players view this as a chance to take care of unfinished business.

“For me it’s been frustrating because we haven’t won over there yet in my time here,” senior captain Jordan Pringle said. “They are our biggest rivalry and I just hate losing to them. For league standings, it’s huge, to win these games. Hopefully we can return the favor this weekend.”

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To come away with those wins, the Illini will have to adjust to a smaller rink and an atmosphere that rivals the one the Harassing Illini bring to every home game.

“Their fans are called the ‘Gang Green’ and they like to run around the stadium waving their flags,” Nemeth said. “Their fans are similar to us; they like to get into the game.”

Fans with flags is only an appetizer.

The stadium is equipped with metal bleachers that surround the rink and fans constantly bang on them with hockey sticks. Pringle said that if you get a penalty, a guy with a whiteboard draws thought bubbles with ridiculous things written on it to get in your head.

“They will come right next to your bench and heckle you, similar to here,” Pringle said. “It’s a fun environment, but you just have to have the right attitude.”

The right attitude is nice, but smart, physical play will be crucial for wins at Ohio. Head coach Chad Cassel said the team had a good week of practice, as it tightened up defensively, but it was the preparation for the hits awaiting them Friday that has been the focus.

“Practice was really up-tempo,” Pringle said. “We had a lot of contact drills. That’s how it’s going to be this weekend on a small rink, so we’re getting ready for that. We are looking forward to the games.”

With the way the Illini have been scoring in buckets and clicking on the power play, there is a lot to be optimistic about this weekend. After a long slump at Ohio, the Illini feel they are due for a win.

“We’re a good team, so I think we’ll pull it out,” Nemeth said.