February kind to Illini hockey’s power play

With less than two weeks before the start of the ACHA tournament, Illinois hockey head coach Chad Cassel got exactly what he desired at this point in the season — an effective power play.

After losing one of the team’s premier power play goal scorers, sophomore forward Austin Bostock, to injury, the Illini’s power play numbers have inexplicably taken a significant leap — more than doubling January’s power play efficiency.

“We’re just getting back to the basics,” said senior forward Andrew Cardona, who leads the team with eight power play goals. “We’ve been getting pucks to the net, getting traffic in front of the net and crashing the net for rebounds. Our transition game has been a lot better.”

Out of the 18 total goals scored by the Illini in the entire month of January, only five came on the power play. Those five goals came amid 42 chances on the power play, which averages out to a 12 percent conversion rate.

Once February hit, the Illini decided to turn it on when given the man advantage. Through five games this month, the Illini’s numbers on the power play greatly exceed those of last month, in which Illinois played eight games. More than 50 percent (9-of-16) of the team’s goals have come on the power play, and the team has already nearly doubled its amount of goals scored while up a man. The

Illini’s nine goals came on just 33 chances for a conversion rate of 27 percent.

“Our power play has been good; it’s been hot and cold, but that’s typical of any power play,” Cassel said. “We don’t score a ton of goals five-on-five, so we need our power play to be good. Typically we are able to get set up and create good opportunities, and it’s just a matter of finishing from there.”

The improved power play also gives the Illini a chance to finish with a better record in February. The Illini went 2-6 in January and have already matched that win total, going 2-4 this month with the opportunity to sweep Eastern Michigan this weekend and finish the month with a .500 record.

“Games against good teams are won through special teams, and with the national tournament coming up we have to really take advantage of the power play,” Cardona said. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to get the win.”

The Illini are scheduled to take on No. 6 Ohio in the first round of the ACHA tournament March 4.