Illinois falls to No. 6 Minot State

By Jared Farmer, Staff writer

The No. 11-seed Illinois men’s hockey team concluded its season with a loss to No. 6 Minot State in the first round of the ACHA Tournament. In what was the Illini’s fourth matchup against the Beavers this year, the Illini gave up an early lead that would set the tone for the rest of the win-or-go-home match.

Minot State opened up the first period with a momentous blitz, scoring two unanswered goals within the first 10 minutes of the first period. Controlling the puck for most of the first, Minot State took advantage of Illinois’ slow start and prevented it from taking consistent shots on goal.

“I don’t think we did much to weather that storm. I just don’t think we were ready to play in that first 20 minutes or even that first 40 minutes,” said head coach Nick Fabbrini. “It really took us until the third period when we started playing our game.”

The Illini began to settle in during the second period, but repeated aggressive offensive possessions from Minot State caused Illinois’ defense to collapse.

Another goal from Minot State at the 11:04 mark in the second would put the Beavers up 3-0. The Illini spent most of the second half trying to score. A goal at the 3:00 mark from junior Luke Forfar finally put Illinois on the scoreboard, down 3-1. However, the Illini lost the potential momentum swinger with a penalty kill at the end of the period.

Another penalty early in the third would put the Illini in a fatal 3-on-5 situation. Down two players, Minot State took advantage of Illinois’ collapsed defense and scored another goal to extend its lead to 4-1.

“We just kept shooting ourselves in the foot today,” Fabbrini said. “We were making mistakes that we’ve talked about and addressed all year long. It’s tough to win that way.”

After the initial collapse, Illinois’ defense held steady, and a resulting turnover sequence turned into an Illini goal that closed the lead to two. Then, just under three minutes later, a slap shot by senior Tyler Opilka cut the lead down to one with 5:13 left.

“That sequence was great. It was what we expected ourselves to do in the first two periods. Something that we’ve done all year long is respond when we’ve faced adversity. Today we didn’t have a response for 40 minutes,” Fabbrini said. “To their credit, we didn’t quit, we didn’t give up, we kept playing, but we just dug too deep a hole for ourselves.”

Illinois switched to a six-player rotation, removing goalie Jake Barnhart to gain a numbers mismatch on offense. Minot State’s defense repelled Illinois in the games closing seconds. With one final turnover, the Beavers iced the game with a final goal to go up 5-3 with 18 seconds left.

The loss concluded the season for the Illini, who finished 22-18 overall. In four games this season, Illinois went 1-3 against Minot State, who will advance in the ACHA tournament to face Adrian College.

“We only have four seniors,” Fabbrini said. “There’s going to be some big holes to fill, but most of these guys will be back next year, and I hope that we’ll be ready to learn from what cost us the game this year. I don’t know what the future holds for our guys, but we’ve got a good group. I hope we remember how this feels and do whatever we can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

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