Illini hockey team looks to carry momentum from weekend split

The scene in the locker room after Saturday night’s 5-2 victory over No. 11 Ohio was one that hadn’t been seen in a while for No. 16 Illinois. Music blasting, players celebrating, and head coach Nick Fabbrini couldn’t seem to get rid of his boyish smirk.

This type of environment has rarely been seen since the opening weeks of the season, and the team will look to continue the post-game celebrations moving forward. In order to do this, Fabbrini wants as much contribution as possible out of every player.

“Obviously not everybody can score goals every game, but everybody can finish their checks, everybody can block shots, and everybody can play strong defense,” Fabbrini said. “That’s something that we’re striving for, to be tougher and tougher to play against. If we can continue to do this on a consistent basis I think we can get on a roll.”

With five goals scored by four different players Saturday, the Illini offense seems to be out of its recent funk. Illinois has scored at least three goals in three out of its past four games, so the team can focus more on improving the defensive effort with the offense performing well.

Fabbrini thought the defensive effort was top-notch in Saturday’s victory and raved about the team’s shot blocking and physical checking.

“Blocking shots is not an enjoyable thing to do, but obviously it makes a big difference when it comes to winning hockey games,” Fabbrini said. “So it was great to see that kind of energy and that kind of sacrifice.”

When asked what the team needs to do to maintain the momentum they gained over the weekend, sophomore forward John Olen took a page out of Fabbrini’s book and said the key to success is playing simple, which is something that has been preached all season.

“We just need to limit the mistakes and stay out of the box,” Olen said. “Power play and penalty kill were a lot better, and I think that showed on the scoreboard.”

The Illini will have a week off before going on the road for the next three weekends. It is a well-needed break for players dealing with injuries, but junior forward Jacob Matysiak doesn’t expect the team to just relax during its week off.

“We’re going to keep practicing like we have games this weekend,” Matysiak said. “I’m sure Coach is going to keep up the intensity, and I’m sure all the older guys are going to keep us going. We’ll have a lot of time to work on extra things that we need to work on.”

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and @joeyfigueroa3.