Illini hockey looks for first win of season against Grand Valley

Junior+forward+Alexander+Matveev+tries+to+take+the+puck+during+a+face+off+against+Ohio+State+on+Friday.+

Photo courtesy of Illinois Hockey Website

Junior forward Alexander Matveev tries to take the puck during a face off against Ohio State on Friday.

By James Barrowman, Contributing Writer

There’s no denying that it’s been a tough season for the Illini hockey team, scoring just 2 goals in 6 games. With a new coach behind the bench, new players joining the roster and a myriad of other changes, head coach Chad Cassel acknowledged the growing pains after last Friday’s 0-8 shutout loss against the Ohio Bobcats. 

“It’s been a little bit of a scramble to get to this point,” Cassel said. “Obviously a lot of new players; we have 17 or 18 underclassmen. So there’s been a lot of change, and it takes time. All these guys are getting used to me, I’m getting used to them, but, you know, it is improving. But once again, we have a long way to go.”

Regardless of the problems, Illinois needs to pick up a win this weekend in the series against Grand Valley State. As of right now, the Illini are firmly in last place for their division, while the Grand Valley Lakers are in the top 10. If the Illini are able to pick up a win or a sweep in this weekend series, then it could go a long way in upping the morale of a team that has looked lethargic and demoralized out on the ice.

The biggest area in which the Illini have struggled has been their inability to move the puck, which has often led them to being trapped in their own zone, a point Cassel emphasized in last Friday’s game. 

“We’ve just gotta make easy plays and get the puck out of our end,” Cassel said. “We had opportunities to get pucks out of our zone, and we turned it over.”

On top of the team’s struggles with moving the puck out of their zone, they’ve also been unable to keep sustained offensive zone pressure, a deficiency that is directly causal to their inability to score more than 2 goals throughout the first six games of the season. However, the Illini must have their defensemen be able to make a sustained effort to push the opposition out of their zone, and the forwards must have a controlling presence in the neutral zone in order to reach the offensive zone. 

Further, the special teams need to start pulling their weight. The power play has been practically nonexistent, another factor that’s played into their lack of offensive production, and the penalty kill has been woefully outclassed in most of the games.

This weekend’s games will not be easy. The Lakers are a tough team and are the clear favorites. But if the Illini are able to pull it off and grab a win, things may change for the club moving forward.

Games will start at 7 p.m. at the University of Illinois Ice Arena on Friday and Saturday as Illini hockey takes on the Grand Valley Lakers in search of their first win of the 2022 season.

 

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