Illinois holds off NIU despite late penalty


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 Stephen Cohn, Staff writer



Illinois head coach Nick Fabbrini rewarded Joey Caprio with his first start of the season Friday night against Northern Illinois. The junior defenseman tallied an assist and arguably the most crucial save of the game.

“Caprio is a guy who does everything for us,” Fabbrini said. “He hadn’t been playing as much earlier in the year, but he’s back in a top-four defensive role for us, and when he plays like that he can control the game form the back-end, and I thought he did a great job of that tonight.”

Caprio helped lead the Illini (11-5-3) to a 5-4 victory over Northern Illinois on Friday night.

Senior forward Max Finley eked one past Illinois goaltender Zev Grumet-Morris late in the first period. The Illini controlled puck possession and had chances to score on NIU goalie JoJo Durrbeck but entered the intermission down 1-0 to the Division II Huskies.

“We had 22 shots in the first period, and we knew he wasn’t going to be able to stop all of those shots,” Caprio said. “He’s a good goaltender, and we just had to keep peppering him and getting shots on goal.”

Illinois got the scoring going in the second period with three goals, including two from senior forward Eric Saulters. Caprio assisted on the second goal with a great stretch pass to Saulters, and the Illini took the 3-2 lead.

The Illini never held the lead until a late third period game-winning goal from junior defenseman Joey Ritondale.

NIU got a flurry of shots on Grumet-Morris on the next shift, and the left side of the net was open for a rebound try. Caprio stepped in to get the save and was able to clear the puck.

The Huskies got one more chance when the first penalty of the game was called on Caprio for tripping with 1:51 remaining in the third period. The minor gave Illinois a chance to flex their muscle, especially after they allowed three penalty kill goals against Ohio University on Nov. 18.

Illinois was successful on its penalty kill and walked away with the 5-4 win.

“I thought it was an interesting time to call the first penalty of the game,” Fabbrini said. “Our PK is something that we’ve worked on, and it’s a lot better than it was at the beginning of the year. It’s been good for us lately, and it was good here at the end.”

This weekend also marked the second annual teddy bear toss for Illinois hockey. Traditionally, fans bring teddy bears to the arena to be donated to children’s hospitals and throw them on the ice after the first goal.

Fans forgot to throw the teddy bears on the ice after Saulters’ second period goal, but the bears went flying after Stephen Quinn scored the go-ahead goal minutes later.

“It’s really special,” Fabbrini said of the teddy bear toss. “The community here makes playing here so special and any chance we have to give back we try to make the most of it.”

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