Illinois hockey team set to face Indiana

By Joey Figueroa

The Illinois hockey team is going to need a lot of things to go right this weekend.

In what will be their last chance to squeak into the ACHA tournament, the No. 19 Illini will host the Indiana Hoosiers this weekend with hopes of winning by large margins.

In addition to being the final games before the ACHA tournament is announced, this will be the final CSCHL matchup of the season for Illinois before the conference tournament begins at the end of February. The Illini aren’t concerned with the CSCHL tournament as of yet, though.

“At this point, I’d say we’re just really focused on taking it to Indiana because that’s our last chance to get a bid to nationals,” senior captain Austin Bostock said.

Indiana is nowhere near making the ACHA tournament, so Illinois has much more to play for this weekend and is expected to have the upper hand; however, the Hoosiers gave the Illini some trouble earlier in the season when they split a weekend in November.

“We certainly have a much bigger sense of urgency than we did the first time we played (Indiana),” head coach Nick Fabbrini said. “We kind of took for granted how much season was left back in November.”

Since that weekend, the Illini are just 8-9, but four of those wins came against top-10 teams in the ACHA, and senior defenseman Mike Evans thinks the Illini are a much improved team.

“I think we’re 10 times better than we were,” he said. “I think earlier this year, we had a lot of new guys and we were trying to figure out our chemistry together. Lately, we have really started playing together as a team, playing really physical, everyone’s sacrificing their bodies for the good of the team and we’ve had some good results.”

Indiana is ranked last in the CSCHL, with its win over Illinois in November serving as its lone conference win for the season. Fabbrini doesn’t expect the Illini to let happen again at home.

“Everybody is well aware of where we’re at now and we’re in no position to take them lightly,” Fabbrini said. “We’re their only league win so far, so that’s something were looking to get back here at home.”

An important advantage the Illini will this time around is being able to play in front of their home fans. Being the last meaningful games of the season at home, the team expects large crowds to come and support them. Some players have even compared the fans at the Big Pond to the Seattle Seahawks’ fans, otherwise known as the 12th Man.

“It’s basically like us having our sixth player out there for us,” Evans said. “It gives us a big boost mentally and physically. It gets your adrenaline going the right away when the fans have your back so it’s awesome.”

Illinois will need to score as many goals as possible against Indiana if it wants a reasonable chance at moving up in the ACHA, since goal differential is a key factor in how the rankings are determined. Even with the burden of making the tournament, Fabbrini doesn’t think nerves will be a factor.

“I think we’ve responded pretty well to pressure so far,” he said. “We’ve raised our play when we’ve needed to, and I’m hoping that we can continue to do that.”

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