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Defense leads Illinois hockey to weekend sweep

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Defense leads Illinois hockey to weekend sweep

Joey Ritondale skates back into Illini's zone after Robert Morris gains possession of the puck at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

Joey Ritondale skates back into Illini's zone after Robert Morris gains possession of the puck at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

Elisabeth Neely

Joey Ritondale skates back into Illini's zone after Robert Morris gains possession of the puck at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

Joey Ritondale skates back into Illini's zone after Robert Morris gains possession of the puck at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18. Illini fell to Robert Morris 3-2.

By Brian Binz, Staff writer

After getting swept at home by Jamestown last week, Illinois hockey knew if it was going to get back on track, its defense would need to step up.

And that it did.

The Illinois defensemen scored three goals, including the overtime game-winner from Joe Ritondale. The Illini picked up five of a possible six points with an overtime victory.

“I thought our defense did a great job all weekend,” said head coach Nick Fabbrini. “Last night they did a great job controlling the pace … and then tonight, you can’t say enough about getting three goals from the defense.”

On Friday, the Illini were boosted by two goals from first-year forward Drew Richter, including the final tally on their 4-2 win to take the opener of the series.

On Saturday, the scoring came from a different source, but the last line of defense was the same. After a two-goal first period, senior goalie David Heflin shut out the Iowa State Cyclones in the next two frames, allowing the Illini to tie it up and eventually win in overtime.

Heflin collected 38 saves, none bigger than a stop on a three-on-one break by the Cyclones in the third period with the game in the balance, knotted at 2-2.

“David’s been a rock for us all year long,” Fabbrini said. “He gives us a chance to win every night … he gives our guys a lot of confidence.”

While Heflin showed up as expected, Illinois’ usually stout power-play kill struggled all weekend long, giving up three power-play goals. Iowa State finished at 37.5 percent efficiency while a man up.

“I think it came from us not winning a lot of draws, allowing their powerplay to get set,” Fabbrini said. “I need to mount some responsibility for it not being good because we didn’t spend any time on it in practice.”

Despite their struggles with a man down, the Illini rebounded from a sweep at the hands of Jamestown last weekend. There, the Illini struggled to close games, losing twice — including a loss after the team had led for two periods.

That was no problem this week. Illinois won the third period each game.

“The biggest change was our attitude and approach,” Fabbrini said. “Last few weeks we’ve had a few guys trying to do too much or be satisfied with doing just enough.”

That change helped the Illini improve to 17-7-0-2 on the year, and the team has now won its last two games.

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