Illinois hockey can’t afford to overlook Division II Indiana

By Ethan Swanson

Whatever the Illinois hockey team found in its near-sweep of then-No. 2 Ohio University Bobcats Oct 23-24 seemed to be lost again after a brutal 7-1 loss to an Illinois State team that was ranked No. 40 out of only 55 teams in the Division I tier of the ACHA.

With the Illini (7-5) struggling to prove their legitimacy in the ACHA postseason picture and justify its top-20 ranking, head coach Nick Fabbrini is stressing to his players that they can ill-afford to slip up this week against Division II-club Indiana (5-7).

“After how this past weekend went, we can’t afford to overlook anyone,” Fabbrini said. “I’m hoping our performance Saturday got us refocused. (Indiana has) some very talented players, their leading scorer is a guy that’s played in some of the highest junior leagues in North America.”

In fact, the Hoosiers have three skaters on their roster that have scored at least two more points than any Illinois Hockey player. Indiana’s top scorer, Travis Maxwell, has recorded 28 points in 12 games with 14 goals and 14 assists – a mark that would rank fourth in ACHA Division I.

The man that will most likely be in charge of shutting down the Hoosier offense Friday is junior goalie Joe Olen, who had last weekend off after an 86-save series against Ohio.

However, it is uncertain Olen will start Saturday’s matchup since Illinois squares off against conference rival Iowa State next weekend. With Olen as the Illini’s clear No. 1 goalie, Fabbrini made it known he wants the junior in goal when the Cyclones come to town, so Illinois’ back-up goaltenders may need to step up to secure a series sweep — something the Illini have failed to accomplish in their last two attempts.

“It’s important we understand that the second night is always more difficult,” Fabbrini said. “No one wants to come in here and leave empty handed and no one wants to get swept on their home ice either. We have to exceed the effort and work rate we have on Friday nights if we want to win the next night.”

In the offensive zone, Illinois will rely heavily on its new point leader James Mcging to add insurance for Olen and the Illini defense.

Mcging has assisted on nearly 23 percent of the Illini’s goals this season, tallying 14 assists and two goals in 11 games this season. With seasoned scorers like Eric Cruickshank and Grant Stueve as line mates, Mcging’s contributions have no signs of stopping this weekend.

“He’s one of the best skaters in the country,” Cruickshank said. “He’s got great vision and ability to get you the puck makes him one of the best in the league.”

Despite last Saturday’s setback, the Illini still believe they possess the talent to play up to any team’s skill level, but need to stop playing down to other team’s level of play. Although there’s almost five months until Illinois the postseason, the team realizes that they need to win games in November to give itself the best chance to make a run.

“We’ll learn from this past weekend,” defenseman Austin Zima said. “But our goals never change.”

[email protected]

@EthanSwanson88