Fabbrini leads Illini back to ACHA playoffs


The Daily Illini File Photo

Illinois’ Nick Fabbrini walks back to the bench after the Ohio hockey game at the Ice Arena on Friday, October 24, 2014. The Illini won 2-1.

By Brian Binz, Staff writer

The last time the Illinois men’s hockey team made the CSCHL title game, Nick Fabbrini wasn’t the main man behind the boards.

Back in 2009, Fabbrini was a graduate assistant the year after they won the CSCHL when he was a senior on the team.

Now it’s just him behind the Illini’s first trip to that point in nine years, and Fabbrini doesn’t think that it’s over just yet.

“This weekend shows we have more than enough talent to accomplish what we want to accomplish,” Fabbrini said. “It’s about not taking shifts off.”

Part of that talent is senior forward Eric Cruickshank, who’s 69 career goals leads the team.

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    “To be able to be coached by someone who has been there and has won it,” Cruickshank said. “He knows what it takes.”

    When Fabbrini was a player he won 2 CSCHL titles in 2006 and 2008 to go with ACHA titles in 2005 and 2008.

    Fabbrini said this year’s team reminds him most of that 2005 team, which also lost in the CSCHL title game.

    “It’s a mix of young guys and old guys who obviously have a lot of talent but haven’t won a lot here,” Fabbrini said.

    That experience has been valuable to senior captain Joe Ritondale, whose six goals in the last seven games helped the Illini get back to the title game.

    “The guys who haven’t been in situations like this before good advice,” Ritondale said. “He directs us.”

    For Ritondale, who is a defenseman, that direction may be a little more subtle than the ones he gives to the forwards.

    “He likes to have Monday’s optional skates called ‘Coach Nick’s goal scoring school,” Cruickshank said.

    Fabbrini collected 74 goals in his four years as a forward for the Illini, with 15 for that national championship team in 2008.

    This weekend, Illinois could use some of that scoring punch, as they face the only team they haven’t beaten this year, University of Jamestown.

    The Illini dropped both meetings with the Jimmies in their series on Jan. 19 and 20, losing in a shootout 4-3, then dropping the second meeting 2-0.

    Those three goals tied the least amount for a weekend all year, and the Illini know that for them to move on they need to find some more offense.

    “We generated a lot of offensive opportunities,” Fabbrini said. “their goalie played great, but we’ve gotta find ways to get some pucks past him.”

    Tyson Brouwer, the Jamestown goalie, totaled 68 saves on 71 shots, and didn’t give up an even strength goal in either game.

    That performance didn’t go unnoticed by the Illini.

    “They have a really good goalie,” Cruickshank said. “He was definitely the reason why they were able beat us.”

    Cruickshank said Illinois has to be more active in front of Brouwer and “take away his eyes.”

    Offense wasn’t the Illini’s main problem last weekend however, as they surrendered 8 goals in two games in the CSCHL tournament, beating Ohio 5-4 then losing to Lindenwood 4-1.

    “Saturday night [against Ohio] we were a little too loose in the defensive zone,” Fabbrini said. “Felt like we gave them a little too much room.”

    Ritondale said that it was just “one of those games, if we’re gonna give up four goals it’s good that we score five.”

    Fabbrini was not as critical of his team’s defensive effort against Lindenwood in the Sunday title game, and said that the goals mostly came off of transition.

    The Illinois defense will be bolstered by the likely return of senior goalie David Heflin, who had missed the last nine games with an injury.

    If it were up to him he would’ve only missed seven of those nine games.

    “I kinda wanted to play last weekend,” Heflin said. “But the coaches sat me down and told me that it would be best to give me a couple more days of rest.”

    This weekend will be the last chance Heflin and the rest of the seven Illinois seniors will have, and while comparisons have been made to other teams, this team has made history of its own.

    “They’ve gone through some growing pains,” Fabbrini said. “We should draw a lot of confidence in that.”


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