Illini hockey swept in Ohio


Kevin Vongnaphone | Senior photo

Illinois’ Joey Caprio goes for a pass during round one of the CSCHL hockey tournament v. Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. Illinois won 2-1.

By Ethan Swanson

When the Illinois hockey team last faced Ohio on Oct. 23-24, the following week it took on Illinois State. After this past weekend’s road series with the Bobcats, the next foe on the Illini’s schedule is the Redbirds.

That is the only similarity between Illinois’ (16-12-3) two series with Ohio (24-7-1) this season.

In October, the Illini held their own against then-No. 2 Ohio; shutting out the Bobcats 2-0 in a Friday night series opener and barely losing in a 3-2 shootout in the series finale. Last Friday, the Illini’s success against Ohio seemed to travel with them after they jumped out to a commanding 4-1 lead after their first period of the road series.

In the next 40 minutes, Illini fans learned that would not be the case.

Illinois was outscored 6-1, giving up a three-goal lead and allowing five unanswered goals.

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    An Illinois team in disbelief and heartbreak did not fare much better in Saturday’s matchup, losing 6-2.

    “We just stopped playing after one of the (best) periods we had all season” head coach Nick Fabbrini said. “I just told (the team) we needed to be much better and play 60 minutes of hockey. For the most part, I think we did that Saturday, we just shot ourselves in the foot too many times.”

    Ohio opened up the scoring early Saturday night, sneaking a puck past Illini goalie Joe Olen two and a half minutes into the game.

    The next Ohio goal would come as a result of a common theme over the weekend: Illini skaters in the penalty box.

    After Illinois was penalized for having too many men on the ice, Ohio scored on the ensuing power play to go up 2-0 heading into the second period.

    Grant Stueve ensured there would be no shutout with an Illini power play goal early in the second period. Illinois then squandered an opportunity to tie the game after an Ohio rough penalty by once again having too many men on the ice and allowing the Bobcats to make it a 3-1 game during four-on-four hockey.

    “That can’t happen,” Fabbrini said. “We got penalized for having too many men multiple times and it put us in bad situations.”

    Another Ohio score right before the horn sounded at the end of the second period was a dagger a potential Illini comeback could ill afford to bear.

    Although Eric Saulters made it a 4-2 game with about 12 minutes left in the final period, Ohio did not let off the gas, netting the puck just a couple minutes later and ending the game with a shorthanded goal after committing an elbowing penalty.

    The two losses lock Illinois as the four seed entering the CSCHL tournament on Feb. 19. The team will face Robert Morris in a play-in game to enter the four-team bracket. Illinois needs to win both its games against Illinois State in order to make the national tournament.

    The last time the Illini took on the redbirds, they suffered an embarrassing 7-1 loss — the Illini are hoping that, like this week, there will be no similarities.

    “We need to win,” Fabbrini said. “That’s all we’re focused on right now.”

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