Illinois Hockey hopes to avoid slip up against Illinois State

By Cole Henke

Illinois hockey is nationally ranked in the ACHA and has an established spot in the CSCHL conference. Its opponent this weekend is not in the same boat.

This is Illinois State’s (4-8-1-1) first year as a Division I club program. Right now, it acts as an independent team. The Redbirds look to join the CSCHL with the Illini (6-2-1-1) but will have to wait until next season.

Despite the Redbirds being a Division II program last season, they still crossed paths with the Illini in a weekend series. The Illini scraped out two wins, with a 5-3 win in the first game and a 2-0 win in the second.

According to sophomore wing Eric Cruickshank, the Illini were not happy with those scores and look to be much more focused this time around.

“We are not trying to scrape out a one goal win against this team,” Cruickshank said. “As a team we need to take them as hard as an Ohio or a Lindenwood, and hopefully just knock them out of the building. We need to really play well and beat this by more than two goals.”

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Cruickshank said that this is an important game even if the team isn’t as strong as its past few opponents. He said this is a chance to prove that the Illini do not have to be playing a strong team to play well and that they can play a full 60 minutes against any team.

Illinois State has already played two CSCHL teams this season, with two losses to both Robert Morris and Iowa State. Illinois State also had a 9-8 win against Alabama, a team that Illinois blew out in two consecutive games earlier this season.

The fact that the Redbirds gave up eight goals to the Crimson Tide — a weakness Illinois looks to exploit.

“(Head coach Nick) Fabbrini has been harping on the fact that we are going to get our offensive chances this weekend,” Cruickshank said. “They tend to crumble in the defensive zone.”

The Redbirds do have a strong top line that scores the majority of their goals. In each of their four wins this season they have had to score four or more goals in order to win. The Illinois defensive line will need to make sure to keep the front line away from the goal.

Fabbrini has already decided that goalie Joe Olen will not start in either game against the Redbirds. Olen has started the last four games in the net, and after having over 80 saves in two games against Ohio, Olen is getting a well-deserved rest. Instead, Junior Zev Grumet-Morris and sophomore David Heflin will each start a game this weekend.

According to junior defenseman Aaron Dusek, the only way Illinois State will be able to beat Illinois is if it takes the Illini out of their game. Despite scoring a lot of goals, that Illinois State front line lacks structure, and will mainly look to wreak havoc all night with their energy instead of positioning.

Cruickshank said the Illini have been keeping their focus this week at practice to make sure they come out and play well against the Redbirds. Illinois’ last two opponents — No. 7 Ohio and No. 13 Robert Morris — provided a much different feel for their games against the Illini. According to sophomore wing James Mcging, the Illini had something to gain against those two teams, but that is not the case against Illinois State.

“This is an odd weekend. There is really nothing to gain for us,” Mcging said. “If we lose, then it looks terrible on our record. But if we win, we were supposed to win. We are one of the biggest games on their schedule, so a lot of their guys are going to come out playing hard.”

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