Illinois hockey to face disciplined opponent


Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

Joe Olen tracks the shot to make a save during the game against Indiana at the Ice Arena on Friday, Nov. 6. Illinois won 5-3.

By Ethan Swanson

Coming off three straight series against CSCHL opponents and back-to-back weeks on the road, Illinois (11-6-3) will be on home ice to take on ACHA No. 12 Western Michigan (14-6-1).

“This weekend could be big for us,” head coach Nick Fabbrini said. “This is our last series before the New Year, with a home crowd behind us we have a chance to bring some positive momentum into the break and make up some lost ground.”

This weekend’s matchup will feature two very different styles of hockey.

The Stallions exhibit a very balanced offense attack with an emphasis on passing and unselfishness. Western Michigan has 12 skaters who have recorded double-digit point totals this season opposed to Illinois’ five.

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Western Michigan spends very little time in the penalty box, and thus, limits itself from being shorthanded.

The Stallions have 86 less penalty minutes than the Illini.

On the road, Western Michigan holds a +9 goal differential, just a three goal difference from its home statistic.

“We try not to let any team dictate the way we play or change our style for any team,” Fabbrini said. “But we know the margin for error is small, we can’t make things harder on ourselves if we want to win.”

Illinois’ formula this season has been a much more dramatic and inefficient one.

The Illini rely on strong goalie play to withstand the near 40 shots per goal they give up on average and kill opposing power plays for the 15 minutes a game Illinois is a man down.

The Illini rarely put teams away early, often coming from behind and relying on their go-to scorers to score timely goals in the third period and overtime.

Illinois has gone into overtime three times and a shootout twice in the last six games.

If the Illini do prevail in a game, it usually stems from a strong performance by the duo of Eric Cruickshank and James Mcging, who account for more than 30 percent of the team’s assists and goals.

“We just try to play to our strengths,” Cruickshank said. “We like to use our speed to get out in space and create scoring chances. That’s when we’re at our best.”

Regardless of how they do it, the Illini need to string together a number of quality wins to stay relevant in both the CSCHL and ACHA standings.

As March inches closer, the opportunities for Illinois to prove itself as a national contender start to dwindle even more.

A series sweep this weekend could set the Illini back on track towards consistency and relevancy: something Illinois has not seen since the start of season.

“It feels like we have the right pieces,” Austin Zima said. “Now we have to put something together.”

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