Ritondale, Illini, ready for playoffs

James+McGing+gains+possession+of+the+puck+against+Lindenwood+and+skates+it+up+the+ice+at+the+Ice+Arena+on+Friday%2C+Dec.+1.++Illini+won+in+overtime+2-1.

Elisabeth Neely

James McGing gains possession of the puck against Lindenwood and skates it up the ice at the Ice Arena on Friday, Dec. 1. Illini won in overtime 2-1.

By Brian Binz, Staff Writer

The regular season for the Illinois men’s hockey team is over, but a familiar foe awaits them in the postseason.

Illinois will take on Ohio in the semifinals of the CSCHL playoffs on Saturday in Athens, Georgia.

Ohio forced a split on the season series, winning two of the four meetings between the team, the most recent of the four being an overtime win for Illinois on Ohio’s senior night.

“It’s really important for us to play to our identity,” said head coach Nick Fabbrini. “It’ll be a little bit of a different team, but we want to do what we do.”

For senior captain Joe Ritondale, recently that has meant scoring the puck. Ritondale has scored in each of the last five outings for the Illini, including the game winner in the last meeting with the Bobcats.

Ritondale doesn’t think the recent hot stretch is a result of any change.

“I’m putting it on net and it’s getting lucky and going in,” Ritondale said.

The Illini earned a bye on Friday after finishing the season with the third seed, meaning they avoided playing on Friday.

While the bye will disrupt the flow of a normal weekend for the Illini, who usually play weekend series on Fridays and Saturdays, Fabbrini isn’t worried about it.

“It was important for us to avoid the play-in game this year,” Fabbrini said.

Like Fabbrini, Ritondale is ready for the new scheduling.

“Just go in and win two games just like we’ve been doing each weekend,” Ritondale said.

The Illini enter the postseason on a three-game win streak and have won seven of the last eight. Their only loss came against Ohio on Feb. 9.

During this stretch, the Illini have only allowed three goals once and have registered two shutouts as well as two games allowing one goal.

The two shutouts doubled the Illini’s previous season total, and they came from backup goalies Ross Lipic and Jake Barnhart.

Heflin has been out of the lineup for five of their last six after injuring himself in the first game against Ohio two weekends ago.

No matter who’s in net, the Illini are confident this weekend.

“We have three quality goalies on our team, and we don’t doubt one of them,” Ritondale said. “We gotta do our job in front of them and trust they’ll make the saves they need to make.”

Fabbrini said Heflin was day-to-day going into this weekend, and he won’t make the call until later in the week.

No matter who’s in goal, the message from Ritondale is the same.

“We’ve played all these teams before, we know what they bring,” Ritondale said. “We just have to go out and play.”

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