Illinois hockey looks to get back on track against Iowa State

Illinois’ James Mcging manuevers the puck down the rink during the hockey game against Aurora University at the Ice Arena on Friday.

By Daniel Dexter

Head coach Nick Fabbrini hopes his team finally learned its lesson.

The Illinois hockey team will return to ACHA play this weekend at the Illinois Ice Arena with a series against Iowa State. Illinois (10-5-0-0) currently sits in second to last place in the CSCHL, with Iowa State (9-6-2 1) rounding out the bottom. 

The Illini have struggled recently with putting in a full effort in both games of a series, including last Saturday’s 7-4 loss to NCAA Division III Aurora University. Illinois started the weekend strong with a 4-2 win against the Spartans on Friday, but fell behind 5-0 in the series finale and couldn’t make up the deficit.

“It’s unfortunate that we are still kind of learning that same lesson,” Fabbrini said. “We are sick as a group of only playing parts of games or parts of weekends. If we have to lose a game against a non-league team to learn that lesson and then come out and play a full 120-minute weekend against Iowa State, I think it’s a price worth paying.”

The team has been outshot in its last five games, and is looking to solve that problem on both the offensive and defensive side of the ice this weekend.

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Fabbrini said Iowa State’s goalie is one of the top in the league and could pose a challenge to the Illini if they are unable to get enough shots off. He wants to see his team take more shots, even if they aren’t from ideal angles,  because that will generate more scoring opportunities off the rebound.

Another aspect of its game that the team has been working on is the back check. The Illini forwards have a tendency of not picking up their opponents on defense. This has led to a lot of odd-man rushes, where the opposing team has three men coming down and the Illini only have two players to stop them.

“Our forwards have been kind of lazy coming back and picking up those guys,” freshman right wing James Mcging said. “That’s how teams have been scoring a lot of their goals against us. That’s something that’s really important, and it has to do with just putting in the effort.”

Despite the recent losses, morale remains high on the team according to Fabbrini. He recognizes that some of the team’s poor decision making is because of the team’s youth, and he expects the maturity to improve as the season goes on. However, if the team continues to have issues with discipline, he is willing to cut ice time for players that commit a lot of needless penalties.

Mcging agreed that the team needs to be smarter about taking penalties, but he also believes that the emotion the players display is a sign that they care about the game. He points to the team’s aggression on offense as one of the stronger aspects of its game, and he doesn’t want to see the Illini get bullied by opposing teams.

“These guys are trying to win, and guys are getting upset when it’s not going our way,” Mcging said. “It’s not ideal when guys are getting DQs and having to sit out games, but if a guy is getting in your face, and you aren’t doing anything about, then there is something wrong.”

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