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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona hockey faces another road test at Illinois

Colin+Prenger+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AThe+UA+hockey+team+played+ASU+in+Tempe+Friday%2C+Sept.+30%2C+2011%2C+at+Oceanside+Arena.+The+Wildcats+were+defeated+by+the+Sun+Devils+6-3.+%0A
Colin Prenger
Colin Prenger / Arizona Daily Wildcat The UA hockey team played ASU in Tempe Friday, Sept. 30, 2011, at Oceanside Arena. The Wildcats were defeated by the Sun Devils 6-3.

The Arizona hockey team faces a stiff test in its its road trip outside the state of Arizona.

After a bye week, the No. 19 Wildcats (2-2-0) travel to No. 11 Illinois (6-0-1) on Friday and Saturday.

“This is a big weekend for us,” head coach Sean Hogan said. “We’re going to see where we’re at and I’m pretty excited about chances.”

The Fighting Illini’s home rink, the University of Illinois Ice Arena, is unique because of its size and is nicknamed the “Big Pond.” The ice sheet at the Tucson Convention Center is NHL size, 200 feet by 85, while an Olympic-sized surface is 15 feet wider and Illinois’ surface is even wider than that.

“It’s the only ice surface like that I know of, that hockey is played on,” Hogan said. “So it’s a big advantage for Illinois, but it also gives our guys a lot of room. We have good speed on our team.”

The UI arena is on campus and five-time Olympic speed skating gold medalist Bonnie Blair used to train there.

“A bunch of us fast little guys get to open up the ice and that’s good for us, with our vision and our skills,” senior forward Jared Lowell said.

Illinois is coming off a sweep at the ACHA Division I Showcase last weekend. The Fighting Illini beat Western Michigan 5-4, then No. 17 Stony Brook 3-2 and No. 12 Davenport 5-1.

“Davenport is one of the best teams we’ll face all year,” Illini head coach Nick Fabbrini said in a press release. “Winning 5-1 over a team of that caliber shows that we have what it takes to be one of the top teams in the nation.”

Arizona is 5-2 against Illinois all-time, though their last meeting was in 2002 in the ACHA national tournament, a 5-0 Illini win. UA’s last trip to Champaign, Ill. was in 1996.

“This is a good test for them and a good test for us because we’re a good opponent and they’re going to be tough for us too,” Hogan said. “So it should be a fun weekend.”

Freshman forward John Olen and junior forward Austin Bostock each have nine points for Illinois. In the goal, Illini junior Nick Clarke has a 5-0-0 record and 2.24 goals against average.

“Illinois is supposed to have one of the best arenas besides us for ACHA hockey,” junior forward Andrew Murmes said. “I heard it’s loud, a packed house, they’re a good team.”

Lowell, who is from Illinois, has never played at the UI arena, but has seen games there and said the seats are right “on top of the ice.”

“When you’re up against the side boards, their fans are literally screaming right on top of you,” Lowell said. “You take a big hit and you get an earful from the fans right there.”

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