Hockey opens league play against Indiana

This is when it starts to count.

The time for all the Illini hockey team’s inconsistencies and question marks has run out its welcome, as the team starts league play this weekend against Indiana.

“It’s a huge weekend for us,” Illinois head coach Chad Cassel said. “It’s the first league games at home. We have a stretch here where the rest of the semester it’s all league games. The competition is going to get tougher than what we’ve seen and it’s important that we get off to a good start in league play here at home.”

So far this season Illinois has faced a relatively soft schedule, playing opponents in Michigan State, Eastern Michigan and Minnesota that the Illini have beaten 14, 16 and 18 times in a row respectively. The team expects the competition from here on to be at a whole new level from what its seen thus far.

“The intensity of this game is going to be a lot higher,” said freshman forward Eddie Quagliata, who has found a home on one of the Illini’s speedier lines. “It’s a league game, everyone is going to be hyped up and everyone likes coming in here to play. There’s a big crowd, everyone is going crazy and all the players feed off of that.”

Although Indiana joined the CSCHL this year, the Illini are familiar with the Hoosiers, having played them the last four years when Indiana was ACHA independent.

“They have always played us tough and we’ve always had great games with them,” Cassel said. “I’m thrilled to have them in our league. They have a great program, and obviously with them being Big Ten it’s a nice fit for both schools.”

Despite the familiarity between the schools, Cassel doesn’t quite know what to expect out of the Hoosiers, as they hired a new head coach in Jan Jas to lead their squad.

“I have no idea really what to expect out of them,” Cassel said. “I don’t know what they have returning or what he’s brought in, we’re just worrying about ourselves at this point.”

In preparation for league play, Cassel stressed the importance of good defense and finishing opportunities when they arise. The Illini defense is focused on protecting the puck and making good decisions in their own zone, which has been a weakness at times through the first six games.

“This week in practice we’ve been working hard defensively,” senior forward Daniel Cohen said. “Chad always talks about how defense leads to all the offense. I think that defensively we’re bearing down.”

Illinois had 95 shots on goal in two games against Eastern Michigan last weekend, but only 10 were finished for goals.

“Offensively when we do get those chances in front of the net, we need to make sure that we do put them in the net,” Cohen said. “Even though we do get a lot of chances, you got to put them in. We’ve really done a good job of scoring goals in practice so it’ll translate to the game.”

While it is likely the team will see tougher competition, the offense should see fewer chances, making it crucial that Illinois converts on opportunities in front of the net.

“I’ve been very happy with the energy with the exception of a few bad penalties here and there,” Cassel said. “The discipline was good on Saturday, and that has to continue as we see better competition. Special teams becomes that much more important and we have to stay out of the box.”