The Redbirds will be back in action at the Pepsi Ice Center this weekend, and the Illinois State club hockey team hopes to add salt to the Wisconsin’s wound that was created Tuesday night from a basketball loss to unranked Indiana.
The first game between the Redbirds and the Badgers will at 9:10 p.m. this Friday, while 6:30 p.m. will be the start of Saturday’s game — ISU’s last home game and senior night.
The senior hockey players will be introduced and thanked for their dedication to the program throughout their career at ISU.
“[They] played a big part this year and we want them to experience the support of our fans at their final home game on Saturday,” ISU head coach Brian Corley said.
For senior defenseman Kris Vandenberg, playing for a national championship-contending team during his senior year is a dream come true, an experience he describes as an “honor.”
“Over the past five years that I’ve been here, it’s been fun to watch the organization constantly improve in every aspect, whether on or off the ice,” Vandenberg said. “This year has truly been special with how well we have been doing. You look around the locker room and every guy is buying into what we have going on.”
Vandenberg will enjoy his Senior Night game Saturday, but afterwards the focus is right back to where it has been all season — bringing home a national championship trophy.
“It left a bitter taste in our mouths losing to Grand Valley in the national semi-finals last year because we were that close to achieving our ultimate goal. So the guys that returned made it a point that we wouldn’t settle for anything less than bringing home a national title this year,” Vandenberg said.
Wisconsin comes to Normal with a record of 13-6-1. ISU is looking to bounce back from a loss at DePaul on Saturday which handed the ’Birds only their fourth loss of the season, perching them on a 21-4 record.
The two teams have not played each other yet this season, but they do have a like opponent in Northern Michigan, which ISU has defeatedtwice and Wisconsin has fallen to.
While this is not a direct indicator of the outcome, it gives each team a good idea of where they are at.
“We had success last year against Wisconsin, but we can’t come out with a big head,” Vandenberg said. “We said at the beginning of the year that everyone has a role to play on this team, so if we do that and make the simple plays out there, we shouldn’t have a problem.”
Tickets for Friday and Saturday’s games can be purchased at the door for a small student fee.