Illinois hockey return home after weekend off

Illinois’ John Olen races toward the puck in the game against Michigan State on Sept. 27.

By Daniel Dexter

After a weekend off, The Illinois hockey returns to the ice to face off against Michigan-Dearborn at the Big Pond.

With several members missing time with injuries, the Illini used the week off to get back to full strength.

“A lot of guys with bumps and bruises are still kind of wrapped up,” goalie John Olen said. “I think people are trying to get back in for this weekend, and that’s good. It’s going to be nice getting some of those guys back.”

Head coach Nick Fabbrini expects Michigan-Dearborn to be the team’s toughest challenge of the year. The Wolverines typically have talented offensive players from semi-professional teams.

Despite the challenge the Wolverines pose, defenseman William Nunez believes the Illini have an advantage because the Wolverines have never played at the Big Pond, which is bigger than a typical ice rink.

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“This is their first time ever playing in Champaign,” Nunez said. “It’s going to be different for them because of our rink, so it will probably take a period for them to adjust.

Nunez believes the defense has played well this season, but it needs to maintain its consistency throughout the two-game series.

The team focused on playing in the defensive zone this past week in preparation for Michigan-Dearborn.

Fabbrini said the key to the game will be if his team can create turnovers on the defensive side and maintain control of the puck.

“When we are skating and creating turnovers, that’s when we are at our best. We want to have the puck,” Fabbrini said. “So on the big ice, if we can’t maintain possession through the zone, we want to get into good areas to create turnovers and get the puck that way.”

The team is hoping to get more fans out to the games this weekend by hosting Greek Appreciation for the fans.

Olen, a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, said the Greek system is a good way to get the word out about Illinois hockey and having more fans at games elevates the play of the team.

The Illini hope to get as many fans to attend as possible for their last home series before they start taking on conference competition.

“Our focus is just playing solid in and out every weekend,” Olen said. “We are hitting our grind now. We have Michigan-Dearborn, and then a bunch of our league games coming up. This is our last kind of tune-up weekend before we start playing the real big teams in our conference.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ddexter23.