Illini hockey lack of shots leads to lack of wins

By Sean Neumann

Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” The Illini hockey team has been missing a lot this season.

When Illinois left Robert Morris with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss on Saturday night, it was an all-too-familiar feeling, having been outshot 48-19 and just needing one more goal to keep even with the Eagles.

Freshman winger David Christel said in games like Saturday’s, when the Illini were outshot by nearly 30, the team is forced to rely on its goaltender.

Rookie goalie Joe Olen kept the Illini in Saturday’s game, making 45 saves with a 0.938 save percentage. But Olen’s stellar effort wasn’t enough to save the Illini from getting swept for the second time this season by Robert Morris.

Illinois has only won three games when being outshot this season, with a record of 3-10 when not outshooting its opponents. Since beginning ACHA Division-I play back in early October, the Illini have only outshot their opponents four times and have only won five of their 17 games.

“We definitely have to get more shots,” Christel said. “(Fabrinni) has been talking about that all season, but for some reason it’s just not happening.”

Head coach Nick Fabbrini said he sets a quota for shots each game. He expects the Illini to get around 30 shots, while holding the opposing team to 20. Yet, Illinois has only held teams to fewer than 20 shots in a game once in its 17 meetings with Division-I teams and has exceeded 30 shots on net just four times since October.

Shots on the net can lead to tip-in goals off deflections and can even create more chances from rebounds given up by goalies after making the initial save. Christel said hockey players are always coached to get pucks on the net when growing up.

“It doesn’t really matter, any scoring opportunity (is good),” Christel said. “If you get pucks to the net, it has a chance of going in.”

Christel said the team works on deflections and rebounds nearly every day in practice, but when pucks are thrown toward the net in game situations, it comes down to the players’ hockey instincts since every shot on net is unpredictable. 

“You’ve got to read the play,” Christel said. “You can’t just be throwing pucks at the net, but it’s never a bad play to get the puck to the net.”

The Illini have been outscored 67-33 Division-I play began, with 46 fewer shots than opponents since starting Division-I play.

Olen credited opposing team’s high shot numbers to Illinois’ defense, which looks to force outside shots from the perimeter, but said he isn’t ever concerned when facing a lot of shots during a game.

“You don’t really worry about it too much,” Olen said. “At the end of the day it comes down to the score and outworking the other team.”

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