Illinois hockey displays strong special teams

By Daniel Dexter

In a close game Friday, Illinois hockey’s special teams stepped up during crucial moments.

The Illini’s penalty kill prevented Robert Morris from scoring on all four of the Eagles’ power play attempts. On its own power play, Illinois capitalized with a goal from left wing Jack Soneson to tie the game, which the Illini went on to win 2-1.

“Every week we work on penalty kills and power plays,” center Josh Belmont said. “That has been really helpful. It has really come together this year. We haven’t really changed anything from last year. It has just been clicking for us.”

On Saturday, however, Illinois was unable to score on either of its two power plays, the last one coming in the last two minutes of regulation with the game tied. Robert Morris took advantage of its opportunities, scoring two power-play goals in the second period. Those goals helped Robert Morris take the 5-3 victory. The Eagles would go on to win the game by a score of 6-5.

Grumet-Morris starter in goal

Goaltender Zev Grumet-Morris replaced starter Joe Olen, who is out for at least the next series with a groin injury.

“That’s an injury that could linger, and we really want to nip that in the bud,” head coach Nick Fabbrini said. “We want to make sure he is good to go second semester for us.”

The Illinois defense provided Grumet-Morris with a lot of help on Friday. Robert Morris took only 25 shots, 24 of which were saved.

On Saturday, both goaltenders struggled, but Robert Morris was able to get off 31 shots compared to Illinois’ 26. Fabbrini said the team’s defense lost its composure in the second period of the series finale, which led to Robert Morris’s two power-play goals.

Illinois slipped in overtime in series finale

The Illini were looking to complete their second sweep of the season against a division opponent but fell short in overtime in the series finale.

Fabbrini was disappointed with his team’s effort in overtime after it showed resilience in the third period to overcome a two-goal deficit.

The Eagles needed only two shots to hit the game-winner three and a half minutes into the period, while the Illini were limited to only one shot.

“We had the opportunity to seize the moment there and win a big game, and we weren’t able to grasp it,” Fabbrini said. “It was a good weekend, but it felt like we let one slip away.”

Despite the loss, Illinois took four of six possible points of the series against a higher-ranked opponent.

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