“It will be a war.”
The same quote was shared by every member of the Marquette Royales’ coaching staff as they prepare for the three-game series against arch rival Illiana Blackbirds Jan. 9-11.
“There’s a lot of animosity from the last series that is still lingering and that goes both ways,” said Royales head coach Kevin Shupenia. “Some of that might come out this weekend.”
When the Royales and Blackbirds meet up, penalties and pain commences. The teams average over 56 minutes of penalties in their nine games played against each other and only one game had less than 40 combined penalty minutes. Marquette was relegated to just eight men in one of their losses to the Blackbirds this year.
The teams met for the first time in Marquette last season with first place in the division on the line. In the second game, Colin O’Connor was ejected and then threw his broken stick at a fan. After a line brawl, the game was called with four seconds left on the clock.
In Illiana, an off-ice issue between periods caused the local police department to be called. When the local authorities arrived, they threatened the officials with obstruction of justice and hit a linesman with a water bottle. With the puck in play, jurisdiction is given to the officials, so despite the 37-minute delay for an investigation in the middle of the third period, more questioning had to be done after the game.
“Both teams flipped over quite a bit, but rivalry’s still there,” said Royales assistant coach Jim Stanaway. “There will be more physicality and fighting than some of our other series. We win games by playing physical and so do they.”
Marquette is looking to start the second half of the season strong in the tight divisional race. The Royales sit just two points behind Tri City for the fourth spot.
The series will be the return to divisional play for Marquette after they went 1-3 in the league showcase Dec. 20-22. All four games were against Minnesota Division teams, including a 3-1 loss in a rematch of last year’s championship game with the Wisconsin Dells Ducks. Marquette won their last game against the Minnesota Owls 9-2.
“Could have gone 3-1 instead of 1-3,” Shupenia said. “We had a young team that struggled to put away games.”
Illiana has already played a series after the showcase, sweeping St. Louis in a three-game series. They’re led by forward Nathan Aloisio, who has 20 goals in 28 games this season.
The Royales will be without Bennett Wyker, who was suspended after checking from behind on December 6. However the Royales just found out about the suspension on December 23, over two weeks after the hit. Showcase games do not count towards suspensions, but it wouldn’t matter anyway since the showcase games were played in between Wyker’s penalty and the suspension.
The second annual Skate For Life will also happen this weekend. Last year’s event raised almost $5,000 for organ donation. On Saturday, a ceremony for organ donors and recipients will occur between periods.
Puck drops at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Fans can get a discount on Saturday with a ticket stub from Friday’s Northern Michigan/Michigan Tech game.