Illini hockey successful on the road

By Sean Neumann

Things may finally be turning around.

The Illini hockey (11-9-1, 3-6-1 CSCHL) team went 2-1 during a successful road trip through Oklahoma.

No. 17 ranked Illinois’ two victories came against No. 6 ranked Oklahoma and No. 10 Central Oklahoma.

Illinois defeated Oklahoma 2-1 on Friday night, before falling to the Sooners 7-2 on Saturday. But the Illini turned things back around on Sunday, beating Central Oklahoma 5-2.

“It’s huge for our team morale,” defenseman Cody von Rueden said. “Everybody in the locker room knows that we’re a good team. We’ve had our struggles in the past month or two, but we always look ahead.”

The team’s problems on the penalty kill has been an issue for the Illini all season long and hurt them again on Saturday, giving up a handful of power play goals in a 7-2 loss to the Sooners. But on Sunday, the Illini looked to have their problem sorted out, exploding for two shorthanded goals from Austin Bostock and John Olen.

“It definitely takes a lot of wind out of their sails and pumps our guys up a lot,” head coach Nick Fabbrini said of the two shorthanded goals.

Fabbrini said John Olen’s shorthanded breakaway goal was the one that put the game away for the Illini.

“Bostock made a great play on the wall, winning the battle, and chipped it up to Johnny (Olen),” Fabbrini said. “When he gets a breakaway, he doesn’t miss very often.”

Von Rueden, who scored a power play goal on Sunday, said the team has the opportunity to score shorthanded goals with its speed and skating ability.

Despite the score on Saturday, Fabbrini said he believed the Illini penalty kill was strong. The coach credited most of Oklahoma’s power play goals to heavy traffic in front of the net, not allowing goaltender Nick Clarke to see the quick wrist shorts coming through.

“It’s tough to defend stuff like that,” Fabbrini said. “I wasn’t angry with the way we killed yesterday, it was just bad luck.”

The Illini scored first in all three games this weekend, something they’ve only done twice in their last 12 games prior to this weekend.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini said the team’s quick offensive starts have been huge for the Illini, complimenting junior Jacob Matysiak for scoring the first goals of the game on both Friday night and Sunday afternoon.

Fabbrini was proud of the team’s effort this weekend, even saying Saturday’s 7-2 score didn’t represent how close the game was.

“They scored five power play goals and an empty netter,” Fabbrini said. “Things got away from us a little bit.”

During the two games at Oklahoma, the home team raised more than $500 for the Illini to take home to victims of last week’s tornadoes in central Illinois.

Fabbrini praised the Oklahoma program for the gesture and its welcoming treatment toward the visiting Illini all weekend.

“It says a lot about the quality of not only the program that OU runs, but the people that are running the program,” Fabbrini said. “They did a lot to make our stay here as comfortable as possible, letting us use their locker room for the entire weekend. They’re just a class program from top to bottom.”

The Illini now return home with more than $500 for tornado relief as well as two wins against top-10 teams.

“We had a lot of adversity coming in,” von Rueden said. “The long travel, crappy weather and unfamiliar rinks, and these are good teams. They have a lot of experience and they’ve been known to be good teams, and we took two out of three against them. There’s nothing more we can ask for than that.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @Neumannthehuman.