Illinois hockey begins conference play against Robert Morris

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Karolina Marczewski

Illinois’ James Mcging (13) looks for an open pass during the game against Michigan State at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Sep. 19, 2015. Illinois won 4-2.

By Cole Henke

The Illinois hockey team is ranked No. 13 in the nation in the latest ACHA rankings. The Illini are the lowest-ranked team in their conference according to those rankings.

Illinois’ conference – the CSCHL – started conference play last weekend, with Ohio taking on Iowa State and Lindenwood taking on Robert Morris. Ohio is now ranked No. 1 in the nation, Lindenwood sits at No. 3, Iowa State stayed at No. 5 and Robert Morris dopped to No. 7 after its two losses this weekend.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini said he knows that all five teams in the CSCHL being ranked in the top 13 is no fluke.

“We have been the best conference in the league since when I played here back in 2004,” Fabbrini said. “Some teams in other conferences will be towards the top some years, but every team in our conference is always good. I know all of the other coaches would agree with that too.”

Sophomore defenseman Shaunak Pal said the team looks at the rankings but knows that they have no indication of how the game is going to go. Instead, the Illini use them for motivation.

Illinois did not play last weekend, but now will start conference play with two home games against Robert Morris on Friday and Saturday.

The Illini have been playing a lot of game-like situations in practice, trying to get back into the competitive mindset after their break.

Robert Morris is very aggressive on offense, so Illinois has worked on keeping its man to man defense tight. The game plan is to keep the puck out of the Illini defensive zone and push it up the ice as fast as possible. According to Pal, the key is getting the puck in front of the net.

The Illini understand that Robert Morris is probably the best team they have played so far, and the team will have to face the Eagles without captain forward John Olen.

Fabbrini announced on Tuesday that Olen broke his ankle in the games against Alabama and will miss 4-6 weeks.

Olen was a major contributor to the Illini’s first offensive line, but now the team will have to look to other guys to pick it up, including left wing James Mcging. Mcging currently leads the Illini with seven points on two goals and five assists.

“We honestly don’t know (how we will make up for it),” Mcging said. “We have plenty of guys that have the potential to take on the role. We will just have to see who steps up and plays well.”

Despite losing a main contributor like Olen, Fabbrini said the game plan on offense will stay the same as it has always been. The only thing that will actually change is the line commbinations.

Even though Olen won’t be playing in the game, he can still help the team prepare. As a senior, he has played Robert Morris many times and knows a thing or two about how they play. He said that Robert Morris is known for its “hard-nose hockey.” Olen played for the Robert Morris head coach, Tom Adrahtas, when he played youth hockey, and he said that Adrahtas just preaches work ethic and hard-nose hockey.

The Illini have been up and down this year so far. According to Fabbrini, if they don’t come into a game focused or prepared this weekend or even the rest of the season, they will get embarrassed.

With different guys getting more ice time and more power play time, the Illini have adjustments to make.

Those changes don’t make the Illini any less confident.

“It’s a first CSCHL matchup of the year. This is the first real test of the year,” Pal said. “We need guys to step up and play to the bets of their ability. We know we can get two wins because we know we are good at home.”

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