Team reflects on games to develop offensive strategies


Elisabeth Neely

Thomas Kolaz gets ready to take a shot at Robert Morris’ goal at the Ice Arena on Nov. 2. Illini shut out Robert Morris 6-0.

The Illini hockey team exchanged victories in two bouts against Minot State at home last weekend. After a late run to seal an Illini win on Friday, the Beavers rallied back on Saturday for redemption.

The Illini had an explosive first minute in Friday’s matchup, capped off by a goal from sophomore Thomas Kolaz to give them the lead immediately. But after the first-minute goal, both teams fell into an offensive drought, and by the end of the second period, it was still a 1-0 advantage for Illinois.

“That was big; being the first team to score is one of our keys to being successful,” said head coach Nick Fabbrini. “Any time you can score within the first minute, it gives you a lot of momentum and really takes a lot out of the opposing team’s sails.”

The third period was the exact opposite of the first two, with Illinois and Minot State combining to score four goals. The Beavers were first on the board in the period, tying the Illini at one goal apiece with 17:07 left. The two teams remained deadlocked for five minutes, but momentum shifted in Minot State’s favor when the team scored again to take a 2-1 lead with just over 12 1/2 minutes remaining.

The Beavers looked poised to walk away from the Big Pond with their first win of the series but were stunned by late-game heroics from freshman Kacper Ryba. After receiving three extra minutes on a power play, with 2:31 left, Ryba sank the puck into the back of the Minot State net to tie the game again. In the ensuing scramble, Ryba scored his second goal of the evening with 41.9 seconds left to play. The Illini then prevented the Beavers from getting a good look on goal, taking the win at the last second and going up in the series 1-0.

“You could tell I had no idea what to do with those celebrations, especially after the second one,” Ryba said. “I was just so excited. It felt good. It felt good knowing that coach Fabbrini trusts me, as such a young player, in a power-play role like that late in the game.”

The Illini nearly got off to another quick start on Saturday but had what would’ve been their first goal waived off at the 9:56 mark. The two sides remained deadlocked in the period and went into the second scoreless.

Minot State would start to take control in the second period. The Beavers’ Dylan Johnson scored the first goal of the evening with 17:47 left. Around the 13-minute mark, a remarkable series of saves by Minot State goalie Josh Bykowski stopped the Illini from tying it up, and the Beavers responded with a goal just before the 10-minute mark to go up 2-0. Then, just as the period’s final minute counted down, the Beavers capped off their surge with another goal to go up 3-0 heading into the third.

Taking advantage of a power play, Kolaz scored the first Illinois goal of the evening with 9:31 to go. The Illini remained the aggressors throughout the remainder of the period, but they were not able to score again. Then, with 50.8 left on the clock, Johnson iced the game with a final goal to put it out of reach. Walking out of the series tied, the Illini are now 14-16, while Minot State improves to 18-7.

“We played pretty well; I thought that in the first period we had the better of the chances, and even in the second we had some really good scoring opportunites and rebound chances, and even an open-net opportunity but just weren’t able to score,” Fabbrini said. “We made a couple mistakes, but it wasn’t a mistake-filled game for us. They really did a good job capitalizing on what opportunities we gave them. I felt like we were in a position to win but ultimately weren’t able to capitalize.”

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