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Illinois hockey to face first real road test with Lindenwood

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Joey Ritondale (2) passes the puck across the ice to a teammate at the Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 10. Illini beat Ohio 5-4.

Joey Ritondale (2) passes the puck across the ice to a teammate at the Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 10. Illini beat Ohio 5-4.

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

Joey Ritondale (2) passes the puck across the ice to a teammate at the Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 10. Illini beat Ohio 5-4.

By Erich Fisher, Staff writer

After securing an 8-0 start to the season, the Illinois hockey team will be traveling to Wentzville, Missouri, to square off against the Lindenwood Lions this weekend.

The Lions are boasting an impressive record of their own so far this year, sitting at 9-2-0 overall and 1-1-0  in conference. Lindenwood is ranked third overall in the American Collegiate Hockey Association standings, while Illinois is ranked No. 10.

Lindenwood is also coming off a dominant performance in its last series against Oklahoma at home. The Lions outlasted the Sooners 4-1 in the first game and then shut them out 8-0 in the second.

Illinois will be playing Lindenwood on road ice — its first divisional contest of the season to go along with its first division road matchup. The Illini have struggled at the Lindenwood Ice Arena, failing to win a game there since Jan. 8, 2011, when they defeated the Lions 3-1.

“They’re just a fast team; they’re a good team and they do all the right things in the right areas,” said senior defenseman and team captain Joey Ritondale. “I think one of the issues is that we come from playing on this big ice to going to small ice, and plays happen a lot faster.”

Ritondale went on to say that if the team goes into the game knowing they have to make quicker plays and do the simple things, it will lead to positive results.

When discussing the difference of gameplay between the playing in Champaign and in Wentzville, Ritondale said it is mostly a mental game.

“We need to prepare going into it that we’re going to have less time and less space and also just play the way we want to play,” Ritondale said. “If we have a good forecheck and pressure their defense every time we get a chance to, we’re going to get chances down the line.”

On both sides of the ice, the Lions have been a powerhouse, outscoring their opponents 42-17 so far this season while averaging 3.8 goals and 37.6 shots per game. Freshman defenseman Joe Nolan, who is Ritondale’s linemate, expresses that the way to slow down Lindenwood is playing defense the way the Illini know how.

“Just need to play our game honestly,” Nolan said. “We have six, seven, eight really good defensemen and we just need to stick to our game.”

Nolan is also not feeling any nerves coming his way in what will be his first taste of divisional hockey action. The offensive defenseman out of Chicago said he just plans to treat this weekend like any other game and that he is going to be looking to make the simple plays in order to get himself into a groove.

The captain of this Illinois squad has a simple message to his teammates to help prepare them for this tough divisional road test they are about to face.

“It’s the midpoint of our season in a couple months and we are playing our division games which we know are always tough,” Ritondale said. “It’s not anything to be afraid of or scared of; we know how to play hockey against these guys and we know we can compete with them.”

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