Illinois hockey finishes just short of goals

By Daniel Dexter

For the Illinois hockey team, the road to a successful season ended too early.

The team finished with a 25-16-1 record and earned a berth in the ACHA national tournament, but were were eliminated  in the second round by rival Robert Morris. LB

Illinois started the season by winning 12 of its first 17 games, including a series sweep of division opponent Iowa State at home. According to head coach Nick Fabbrini, the team’s strength during the year was its speed, which was frequently on display on the team’s larger-than-normal home ice.LB

“When we are skating and creating turnovers, that’s when we are at our best,” Fabbrini said. “We want to have the puck. 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.”

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Fabbrini’s team struggled to find its rhythm at times, which Fabbrini attributes to Illinois’ youth. The team got into a bad habit this season of winning its first game at home, only to fail to complete the sweep the following night. That occurred six times over the course of the season.LB

Illinois’ worst stretch of the season took place over winter break when the team struggled through a five-game losing streak — the Illini lost all five games on the road. Once school resumed, the season didn’t get any easier for the Illini as team leaders John and Joe Olen went abroad to play in the World University Games.LB

Illinois was able to get by, however, behind the breakout play of its stellar freshmen. Freshmen Eric Cruickshank and James McGing made their presence known for the Illini, coming in second and third for points on the team, respectively.LB

“We have a good senior class that has shown guys what it takes to be competitive in our league, night in and night out,” Fabbrini said. “When we have the upper and lower classmen working together in that regard, we create a powerful team.”

With both Olen brothers returning next season, the Illini will field a more experienced team that will look to make a run at the CSCHL and ACHA championships that it missed out on this season.

“It’s the goal every year, and we’re going to keep building on that,” Cruickshank said. “I think every year we have a good shot.”

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