Illinois hockey coming together after 1st practice

With tryouts and cuts nearly finished, the surviving players of the Illinois hockey team got to experience their first practice under new head coach Nick Fabbrini.

The players were greeted to an ominous fog hanging over the ice because of a broken dehumidifier, making it difficult to see from one end to the other. As for the practice itself, junior forward Austin Bostock was pleased with the effort.

“It’s just a different kind of practice,” Bostock said. “Today, it was a little out of left field. We didn’t really know what to expect. But it was a good up-tempo practice, and I think everyone enjoyed it.”

Being just the first practice, there wasn’t much implementation of Fabbrini’s new system, but that doesn’t mean the players aren’t showing that they’re ready to go. In addition to practices, players will have off-ice workouts, something that wasn’t done in the past, to help prepare for the season.

“We’ve been working hard the past week with tryouts and everything,” Bostock said. “We want to make sure we have a tight-knit group. … I think guys are starting to come together already, and we haven’t even had our first game yet.”

The roster currently sits at 30 players, down from the initial 55 who showed at tryouts last week. All 30 will make the trip down to Springfield for a pair of exhibitions from Sept. 7-8, and Fabbrini said the roster will shrink again down to 27 after the games.

“We’re really just looking to see what we have,” Fabbrini said of the exhibitions. “Tryout games are one thing, but it’s tough to really evaluate players until we’re at full speed and in a real game.”

In the exhibitions, Fabbrini said the Springfield Junior Blues will be “one of the best teams we face all year.” Rather than have a few tune-up games against cupcake opponents, Fabbrini likes the fact that the Illini will be tested from the first drop of the puck.

However, being only exhibitions, the result at the end isn’t necessarily as important as the experience and learning that goes on during the games. Fabbrini made it clear he hates losing but acknowledged that there are more important things than exhibition wins in September.

“I hate losing at anything,” Fabbrini said. “I’m really more worried about the process. Even the first semester. Obviously we want to win every game, but it’s about getting better every day and making sure we’re playing our best in March.”

Playing their best at the end of the year was something that the 2011-12 Illinois team did not do, finishing under .500 for the year with a first-round exit in the ACHA national tournament.

The road back to the glory years of the mid-2000s starts this weekend for the new coach and his players.

“We just want to be playing our best hockey in March,” Fabbrini said. “I think the best way to prepare for that and the best way to prepare for the good team that we’ll play in the playoffs is to play those good teams all year long.”

_Stephen can be reached at [email protected] and @steve_bourbon._