Illinois hockey off to a rough start

Illinois+Joe+Olen+%2831%29+attempts+to+block+a+shot+during+the+hockey+game+vs.+Robert+Morris+at+the+Ice+Arena+on+Saturday%2C+Jan.+24%2C+2015.+The+Illini+lost+4-3.

Kevin Vongnaphone | Senior photo

Illinois’ Joe Olen (31) attempts to block a shot during the hockey game vs. Robert Morris at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015. The Illini lost 4-3.

By Cole Henke

The Illinois hockey team was shut out in two exhibition games over the weekend against the Jr. Blues of Springfield, Illinois.

The Illini lost the games by the scores of 8-0 and 5-0, respectively. Head coach Nick Fabbrini was disappointed more about the team’s effort than he was the score.

“We maybe played the hockey that we are capable of playing for 25 to 30 minutes through both games,” Fabbrini said. “It’s really frustrating considering we can look back on those 25 to 30 minutes and believe that we carried the play.”

It didn’t take long for the Illini to fall behind. The Jr. Blues scored their first goal 20 seconds into the game.

Afterward, junior goalie Joe Olen tried to look on the bright side of the loss.

“Looking at the silver lining, we now know what we need to work on,” Olen said. “Our defensive zone is the main problem, but obviously our offense needs work too.”

Being exhibition games, neither one counts towards Illinois’ CSCHL conference record. Olen saw the losses as a learning experience and called the two losses “feeler games”.

The offense remained stagnant all weekend. According to Fabbrini, there were some unlucky bounces off the post, but mainly it was because the team wasn’t capitalizing on its opportunities.

“As a team, we need to play to our strengths,” Fabbrini said. “We need to focus on getting the puck deep in their zone. That is where we are our best.”

Effort was the real focus point for Fabbrini.

“We realized when we don’t play as hard as we can that we are a bad hockey team,” he said.

Home ice advantage

The Illini have a distinct home ice advantage when they play in the Illinois Ice Arena.

The rink is 30 feet wider than the NHL regulation rink.

The corners have much more of a gradual curve than an average rink. The Illini practice on this ice all of the time, so they have become used to how the ice and the boards play.

When the visiting teams play in the rink, there is an adjustment period for them.

“It definitely provides us with an advantage, knowing this big (ice) so well,” Fabbrini said. “Sometimes the other teams’ players will come in and their bags and jaws will drop at the same time. They can’t believe that they have to play on this thing.”

From the other perspective though, when Illinois goes on the road they have to adjust to the smaller ice.

The transition was especially hard for the new players, who had to adjust not only to the ice, but also to the new pace of play.

Olen, one of the team’s veterans, always has the same advice.

“I usually just tell them to play the way that they played before (they were on this team),” Olen said. “At first it seems like you have to make decisions so much quicker, but really (the players) just have to adjust to the pace of play.”

A different type of opponent

The Illini’s opponent this past weekend, the Springfield Jr. Blues, is a junior hockey team, which is different from the rest of Illinois’ opponents this season.

A junior hockey team is at a level between high school hockey and Division I hockey. All the players on these teams still have aspirations of playing at the Division I level.

The main difference, according to Fabbrini, between playing a junior team as opposed to one of Illinois’ conference opponents is that the junior teams are younger.

None of the Springfield players have any commitments, according to Fabbrini, but he said they are still a very young team for junior team standards.

“That was the best Springfield team that we have played in the four years that we have played them,” Fabbrini said. “We have to give them a lot of credit. They came out flying.”

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