Training camp underway for Illinois hockey team


Austin Yattoni

Illinois’ John Olen takes a shot during the game against Indiana Tech at the Ice Arena on February 27. The Illini won 5-2.

By Erich Fisher, Staff writer

The Illinois hockey team has finally been reunited with its revamped ice arena this week as the squad prepares to hit the ice for the first time this year for training camp.

Veteran players reconvened with one another while at the same time getting a chance to skate alongside some fresh faces.

The mood was friendly at the start of practice. Players were joking around with one another during the shoot around, then continued to center ice while they were stretching.

However, it became all business once Illinois head coach Nick Fabbrini brought the players over to the boards to give drill instructions.

Drills initially consisted of three-on-one rushes and three-on-two rushes, then the remaining players filled in a couple seconds later to go five-on-five and practice mini rink drills where they brought the nets in closer to each other and had the players go three-on-three and two-on-two.

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The longer the practice went on for, the more the intensity rose along with the level of physicality.

“The intensity was much higher today than the first day,” Senior forward James McGing said. “When we were running the mini rink drill in the corner, guys were hitting each other pretty hard against the boards.”

As expected, this year’s expected first line of senior forwards Grant Stueve, McGing and senior center Eric Cruickshank shined throughout practice. The chemistry they have constructed together over the years was flourishing all over the ice.

Senior defenseman Joey Ritondale, who will more than likely be on the first defensive line, will be heading into his second season wearing a “C” on his chest. He has learned a lot about himself as a leader last year, and he thinks that’s going to translate over well this season.

“I learned how to be a better leader [last year]. I was captain of previous teams in amateur hockey, but coming here and playing with guys who’ve played at a high level and playing against guys who’ve played at an even higher level makes you really learn a lot on how much it takes to set a good example,” Ritondale said.

Heading into this upcoming season, Ritondale knows that he will not be the only person in the locker room acting as a leader for his team.

“There’s a bunch of guys on this team that would do the same thing on this team no matter if they are wearing a letter or not,” Ritondale said. “We came together as a group really well at the end of last year and I think that carrying over to this year can make us have a successful season.”

With the graduation of former ACHA MVP Joe Olen, Illinois will have a new man in between the pipes for them this season—senior goaltender David Heflin.

Making an even bigger leap this season will be his backup—sophomore Ross Lipic. He will be going from not playing a single regular season game his freshman year to seeing significant time behind Heflin. If Helfin goes down with an injury, then Lipic will become the starter.

“I’ve got a lot more experience. I didn’t play a whole lot last year but just practicing has been huge for me so far. I’ve been working on playing bigger and playing better angles.” Lipic said. “I’ve gained a lot more confidence this year.”

Training camp ends Friday, and the Illini will be seeing their first action on September 9 when they start their preseason series against the Springfield Jr. Blues.

“I absolutely feel closer to the guys [this year],” Lipic said. “It’s a great feeling just being on the ice with them and I’m just looking forward to this year.”

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