Offense remains inconsistent for Illini hockey

By Joey Figueroa

If the Illinois hockey team’s down season could be attributed to a single factor: its lack of goal scoring.

The Illini fell to No. 2 Robert Morris twice last weekend and scored just two goals in each game. The last opponent Illinois faced that was ranked that high was against No. 1 Arizona State. Illinois managed just one goal in two games.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini has said all season that he thinks the team needs to score at least three goals per game to have the best opportunity for a win. Fabbrini constantly reiterates this concept before games and between periods, and the players have seemed to buy in to that mind set. They just haven’t always been able to follow through on the ice.

“I think three is definitely that magic number, and that’s something that we need to focus on, just getting one more goal or that momentum goal to just shift us into the better side of the equation,” senior forward John Scully said. “Two goals is OK if you’re only giving up one, but we definitely have to put in a couple more goals and provide our goalies some support to give us a chance to win.”

On average, the Illini have scored slightly better than three goals per game for the entire season; however, when matched up against CSCHL opponents, they score a little less than two goals a game. Besides their 6-0 start to the season, in which they played no top-25 ranked ACHA team and averaged 6.5 goals per game, the Illini have scored at least three goals in a game only five times in 17 chances.

The defense has fared well for Illinois so far, but with the struggles on offense, there is only so much the defense can do.

“We need to get more pressure on the boards to sustain the offensive zone to take some pressure off our defense and goaltending, which to this point have been very good for us,” Fabbrini said. “We need to make other teams play defense for extended periods of time instead of constantly being on our own end.”

On a few separate occasions this season, Fabbrini has removed senior goalie Nick Clarke from games in which he thought the offense was leaving him out to dry. The Illinois goaltenders won’t openly complain about the offense but have admitted it’s easier to protect the net when the team is scoring.

“It gives you a little bit of confidence,” sophomore goalie Joe Olen said. “Usually you don’t think about how many goals they’re going to score at the end of the game, you’re just thinking about the now. But, at the end of the day, three’s probably where you want to be, winning-wise. If you get three, you have a great chance of winning the game. Anything less than that, it’s lot of pressure.”

The Illini were outshot 48 to 19 against Robert Morris in Saturday’s game, which is a key indicator for how the offense performed. Having more shots-on-goal and scoring opportunities in general will be key for the offense moving forward.

“Since we’ve been playing, every coach we’ve ever had has said to just get the puck to the net because that’s when good things happen,” freshman forward David Christel said. “If you’re just playing around the perimeter you don’t usually get scoring opportunities. So, regardless of how hard the shot is, if you get pucks to the net, it has a chance of going in.”

Illinois will look to correct its offense this weekend against its last opponent before winter break, Division-II Northern Illinois. The Illini scored nine goals in their previous matchup against the Huskies at the beginning of the season.

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