Illini seniors set to return for full shifts against Iowa State

The Illinois hockey team is looking forward to having its senior captain Austin Bostock and senior assistant captain Mike Evans back on the ice this weekend when it squares off against conference foe Iowa State.

Bostock is returning from a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder, which he played through all of last season before having surgery last March.

He was cleared to play last Monday and has been participating in full-contact practice. When asked if his shoulder is 100 percent, Bostock responded with no hesitation.

“Yes, it’s fine,” he said. “I’ll be in the lineup for sure.”

Bostock didn’t dress for last weekend’s series against Michigan State because he didn’t think he was fully acclimated to being back on the ice yet.

“I got cleared on Monday, so that gave me only three days of practice before the weekend,” Bostock said. “I haven’t had contact since March, so I wanted to give it a little bit of extra practice to make sure I was 100 percent.”

Head coach Nick Fabbrini agreed Bostock needed some more time in practice before seeing significant time on the ice.

“We didn’t want to chance it too early, so we kept him out an extra week and he’ll be back in there this weekend ready to go,” Fabbrini said.

Even though Bostock will finally make his return to game action this weekend, Fabbrini does not plan on him playing overly extensive minutes.

“(Bostock) has been working really hard all summer to get back in shape, but he’s not in game shape yet,” Fabbrini said. “He’s probably not going to play quite as many shifts as Evans does because we’ve got four lines and they’re all going to play this weekend. But I don’t expect either one of them to have a problem. They’re both good skaters and are both in pretty decent shape for not having played so far, so I think it’ll just take them a game or two to get their legs back underneath them.”

Evans suffered a shoulder injury after falling over summer vacation. He returned in the second game against Michigan State but only played on two power play shifts late in the game. When asked about his shoulder, Evans sounded just as confident as Bostock.

“It’s great, I’m feeling fine,” Evans said. “I just started going full contact today in practice, and I took a couple of hits, nothing too serious. It felt strong, and I feel like I’m ready to go.”

Fabbrini expects Evans to get the number of minutes he usually sees this weekend but will keep an eye on how ready he looks.

“Evans is going to go back in and gets the regular amount of his time, so I expect him to be fine,” Fabbrini said. “We’ll have to watch his conditioning and things because he’s definitely not in game shape yet, and you can only get into game shape by playing in games.”

The Illini are getting their senior captains back at a pivotal time in the season, with conference play just beginning and a schedule that will only get tougher.

“We’re playing all top-10 teams for the next six weeks, so I expect all those teams to be a lot better than we’ve played so far,” Fabbrini said. “So, any time you get seniors and captains back it’s big, both for play on the ice and in the locker room. I know everybody’s excited to have those guys back.”

Bostock said he’s been inspired by his teammates’ play so far and admitted he’s had this weekend marked on his calendar for a return all along.

“The guys have been playing great, obviously,” Bostock said. “They’re putting up points without me, which is great to see. I was really aspiring for Oct. 4, that was really my goal to get back by, and I got it. Our (conference) is the best in the nation. We have five or six teams in the top nine, so it’s really easy to get up for these games.”

Joey can be reached at [email protected] and @joeyfigueroa3.