The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

‘It all comes down to this’

Rivalry weekend sets up hockey season finale 
Matt Stepp
Freshman Foreward Aiden Taylor lines up for a faceoff in the game against Illinois State on Friday.

Illinois hockey’s season has officially entered its home stretch as the regular season comes to a close this weekend. The intensity of the season has yet to dwindle, with a rivalry series between Illinois (12-14) and Illinois State (22-11) on the horizon.

Looking to their match against the Redbirds, the Illini have a chance to end their season with an even record. According to head coach John Opilka, Illinois State is the perfect opponent to help Illinois meet this goal.

“(When) you’re playing Illinois State, both teams circle these games,” Opilka said. “Players get up with a different energy to end the season. It all comes down to this.”

Illinois has not had the best month, only winning two of its six games in February.

The two wins came in the Illini’s most recent series against the Alabama Crimson Tide, scoring at least five goals in each game. With the help of a hat-trick by freshman winger Anthony Varassi, Illinois got back in the win column for the first time this month.

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Junior center Alexander Matveev is now the team’s leading point scorer after a pair of stellar performances against Alabama. He has notched 10 goals scored and 15 assists on the season.

Behind Matveev is sophomore winger Gregory Etingen, who has had a consistent season, totaling nine goals and 14 assists heading into rivalry weekend. After battling some injuries all season, Etingen is ready to help Illinois end its season on the right note.

The last time the Illini went up against the Redbirds was at the beginning of November in Bloomington, Illinois. Although both matches swung in favor of the Redbirds, the Illini put up a good fight and will look to replicate that same intensity in their home arena this weekend. 

“Being at home is great,” Opilka explained. “We feed off the fans and we expect this place to have an energy like no other, especially in a game like this.”

Illinois State enters this weekend on a six-game win streak, its longest of the season. This stretch comes at an opportune time, as it appears there is no stopping the Redbirds as they make a bid for the national playoffs. 

Sitting at 65 points on the season, Illinois State is 14th in the ACHA Division I standings, well on its way to finishing in the top 24 and earning a spot in the ACHA National Tournament that will be held in mid-March at Maryland Heights, Missouri.

The Illini have already been eliminated from making the post season, sitting in 50th with 34 points, but they still have plenty of juice for their rivalry matchup with the Redbirds. 

Illinois will host Illinois State this weekend on Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. The Illini will play both games at the Ice Arena in Champaign, Illinois.



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About the Contributor
Matt Stepp
Matt Stepp, Visual Director
Hey there! I’m Matt, I’m currently a first-year majoring in Graphic Design, with a minor in media. I started here at the Daily Illini in the fall of 2023 as a staff photographer, and now serve as the Visual Director for the Daily Illini. I have always loved photography, you will probably see me around campus shooting sports and other events. I’m also an artist and love watercolor painting and illustration. If you’re a swimmer or enjoy the pool, you may see me at the ARC or CRCE working as a lifeguard as well, I’m never away from a pool for too long!
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