Illinois hockey splits weekend series against Robert Morris

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Illinois’ Aaron Dusek (28) passes the puck during the game against Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014. Illinois won 3-1.

By Daniel Dexter

It was a weekend of comebacks for the Illinois hockey team.

The Illini won the series opener against Robert Morris on Friday by a score of 2-1, and took Satuday’s game into overtime, but the Eagles ultimately won, 6-5.

The Illini started off sluggish in both games, falling behind 1-0 early in the first period in each game. Head coach Nick Fabbrini said he has noticed a concerning trend with his team letting up the first goal.

“For whatever reason, we have been starting slow,” Fabbrini said. “I don’t know why exactly that is, but it seems like we need to get scored on first before we can start playing. That’s a little bit troubling and something we definitely we will address this week in practice.”

As a result of their slow start, the Illini had to crawl back into both games. On Friday, both teams allowed only 25 shots on goal, and Illinois made the most of its opportunities.

Left wing Jack Soneson capitalized on a power play goal in the second period, and then center Josh Belmont sealed the comeback in the third with shot from the inside.

“We got the puck deep and made a couple of good shots that could have gone in,” Belmont said. “Mine was pretty lucky. It was a backhand shot from around the circle. I guess the whole thing was just working hard and getting pucks near the net for the guys down low.”

With a win under their belt on the road, the Illini looked for the sweep Saturday against a division opponent.

The second game was a higher scoring game and Belmont said the Eagles came out with much more intensity than the previous night. However, Illinois hung with them throughout the game but were couldn’t take the lead.

Down 5-3 heading into the third period, Illinois controlled the entirety of the period and came back to tie the game off goals from forward Jonathan Langan and defenseman Aaron Dusek. Fabbrini called it one of the best periods of hockey he had seen from his team all season.

“We were clicking and getting a lot of opportunities,” Fabbrini said. “We were really using our speed. It was really fun to watch. The way we played in third period is what made our play in the overtime so much more disappointing. We had the opportunity to seize the moment there and win a big game, and we weren’t able to grasp it.”

Fabbrini said his team came out flat in the overtime and didn’t create the same chances to score as in the third period. The team gave up a goal to Robert Morris’s Nathan Chasteen to end the weekend on a loss.

Despite failing to sweep their division rival, the Illini still came away with four of the six points up for grabs during the weekend series. Robert Morris came into the matchup ranked No. 8 in the ACHA, four spots ahead of Illinois.

The team has now played a two game series against every team in the CSCHL and is currently in fourth place in the division. Belmont said the team proved it can play with the rest of the division, and if it can have a strong second half of the season, it should be in contention for a league championship.

“We have seen everyone, and we have only not beaten Lindenwood so far,” Belmont said. “I think we can turn that around. I think every team is beatable, and we are definitely in a really good spot to make a good run this season.”

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

@ddexter23.