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Regular season kicks off for Illini Hockey against Michigan State

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Eric Cruickshank (15) gains possession of the puck and takes it up the ice to Robert Morris' zone at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

Eric Cruickshank (15) gains possession of the puck and takes it up the ice to Robert Morris' zone at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

Eric Cruickshank (15) gains possession of the puck and takes it up the ice to Robert Morris' zone at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

By Erich Fisher, Staff writer

With a quick glance at the schedule, one may mistake the beginning of this year’s Illinois hockey’s season for the beginning of last season. They once again are opening up the year against Michigan State’s Division II hockey team.

Illinois does not want to mirror their start from last season though. The team struggled for most of that contest and narrowly avoided a massive upset.

The Illini trailed the Spartans 2-1 going into the third period and needed a goal from sophomore forward Charlie Salk to take the lead with only five minutes left in the game.

This weekend, Illinois won’t be sleeping on this Michigan State team.

“I think we just need to play them as if they are another team in the CSCHL and just play our game instead of playing down to them, no offense to them,” senior forward Eric Cruickshank said. “If we do that, I think we will be successful.”

Defensively, Illinois head coach Nick Fabbrini has been on record saying that there has been a learning curve with this year’s team. However, he did say that he felt the defense would be ready to go come Friday’s game.

Senior defenseman and team captain Joey Ritondale is the staple of the Illini’s defense, and he feels that the key to them being successful in its own zone is just keeping the play simple. Getting fancy is the last thing he wants since there are new players joining the team and they are not quite comfortable with the bounces and the angles of the ice.

One of these new players that will be skating in an Illinois jersey for the first time on Friday is sophomore forward Evan Sabo. A year ago, Sabo was roughly 50 minutes up the road in Bloomington, Illinois, as a member of the Illinois State hockey team.

Though Sabo is no stranger to collegiate hockey, he still feels that there will be some nerves coming his way in his first game.

“There’ll be some nerves, especially coming from Illinois State, but I am also excited to just be on this team and playing for this organization,” Sabo said. “These guys, they’re a great group of guys, and I just want to get the season going.”

With that said, Ritondale is still liking his team’s current position along with the growth of the Illini’s chemistry on and off the ice.

“We’re feeling good. Those two games against Springfield tested us and made us really come together as a group,” Ritondale said. “We had a good week last week and were able to take the weekend off and have come back hard so far this week. I think we’re ready for it and ready to get going.”

Cruickshank is in the same boat as Ritondale when it comes to the anticipation of this weekend series against the Spartans.

“We’re starting to gel as a team,” Cruickshank said. “Moving into the weekend, we’re excited and we’re always excited come back to Big Pond and see our fans.”

@ETFisher24

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