Illini hockey faces preseason injuries to its leaders

The season hasn’t even started, and the Illini hockey team is already being dealt a poor hand.

With senior captain Austin Bostock already out for the next three to four weeks while he recovers from rotator-cuff surgery, the Illini will also be without assistant captain Mike Evans for two to three weeks.

Evans said he separated his right shoulder after taking a “nasty fall” during a vacation with his family earlier this month. Since then, the senior defenseman has been unable to play.

Fabbrini said Evans isn’t deferring to doctors about a time frame for his return and that the decision is up to him on exactly when he can return to the ice.

In the best-case scenario, Evans hopes to be back for the second game against Michigan State later this month, but he is confident he will be back on the ice in time for the team’s series against Iowa State in the first weekend of October.

But there is good news, Fabbrini said.

Captain Austin Bostock told Fabbrini he’s feeling stronger every day, which seemed to show as he carelessly flew down the ice during breakaway drills in practice Monday.

“I’m jealous of these guys getting down to the grind of the season,” Bostock said. “I’m kind of bummed out that I can’t be fully into it.”

Fabbrini said the team is hoping for doctors to OK Bostock’s return after his next visit Sept. 23, which would make him eligible for the weekend series against Michigan State on Sept. 27-28.

Freshman Cody von Rueden said that although the two senior leaders can’t help out on the ice, it’s the off-the-ice leadership that is most important.

“They’re really working hard to get back into shape,” von Rueden said. “It’s really inspiring for us to watch.”

Both Bostock and Evans have participated in practices this year, wearing red jerseys that signal to other players no contact should be made with them. But as assistant captain, Evans said not being able to participate in games is difficult for him to swallow.

“A big part of being a leader on this team is that you’re not only with the boys on the bench and in the locker room but also on the ice,” Evans said. “Austin and I like to set an example on the ice with the way we play.”

Von Rueden agreed the absence of two of the Illini’s three captains during the team’s first three weekends will be a detriment to the young players’ growth on the ice.

Although the two captains are sidelined with injuries, Bostock said the team’s newly appointed assistant captain, senior Matt Welch, is stepping up to lead the team during its upcoming games against the Springfield Jr. Blues, Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.

Despite he and Bostick being limited to cheers from the stands, Evans said something positive can come out of the absence.

“A lot of new guys are going to be able to step in and try to prove themselves,” Evans said. “We’re going to do our best to try and lead them in the right direction in the locker room.”

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @Neumannthehuman.