Illinois hockey team looks to remain in national championship hunt against Minot State

By Joey Figueroa

The Illinois hockey team will look to move up in the standings this weekend when it hosts the No. 7 Minot State Beavers for alumni weekend, having split last weekend with No. 8 Ohio and maintained its No. 20 spot in the national rankings. 

This will be Illinois’ second of three consecutive matchups against top-10 teams, and the Illini don’t have much room for error for the rest of the season. The ACHA national tournament has been a 20-team format for the past two years, and Illinois has been barely hanging on to that last spot for the past three weeks.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini was disappointed that Illinois didn’t move up in the rankings after a close weekend in Ohio but said the team can’t dwell on it. 

“We absolutely are going to be desperate this weekend to win both games,” Fabbrini said. “We need them both. The fact that we’re not exactly where we’d like to be in the rankings shouldn’t get us down. If anything, it should serve as extra motivation for us.”

After starting the season on a 13-game winning streak, the Beavers have been a mediocre 9-9 since; however, they are the defending ACHA champions and have many players from last year’s team still on the roster. 

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    Minot State may prove to be one of the toughest tests of the season for the Illini, but there is no sense of intimidation among the team.

    “We’re pretty excited about (playing the Beavers),” senior forward John Scully said. “This is why you schedule those kind of games. Being back at home here during alumni weekend, I think we’ll have a pretty nice fan base going, which will help generate some energy.”

    The Beavers are coming off a successful weekend sweep of No. 17 Oakland, in which they scored 14 total goals.

    Fabbrini said this will be the first time Illinois is facing Minot State since 2003, so the only way the Illini can prepare for the Beavers is by watching game tape of their most recent games.

    “We’ll try and figure out some of their tendencies and some of the things they like to do, but really it’s just going to come down to the way we play,” Fabbrini said. “We’re definitely going to respect them, obviously, but I don’t think we’re intimidated by them.”

    Illinois will try to use its speed and skating skills to gain the upper hand against the larger Minot State squad that isn’t used to playing on a rink as big as the Big Pond. 

    “We’re working on using our speed to get pucks to the net and using our ability to skate,” Scully said. “We’re a pretty good skating team, so we’re going to try to use that to our advantage.”

    Fabbrini said Illinois and Minot State were pretty big rivals when they used to play regularly, and he is looking forward to renewing that rivalry this weekend.

    “It’s going to be a very tough weekend for us, but I think if we come out and play the way that we’re capable of, especially on our rink, (we can) fully expect favorable results this weekends,” Fabbrini said.

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