Illini hockey begins conference with tough stretch

The defining month in the Illini hockey team’s schedule is about to begin.

No. 6 Illinois (6-0) will start CSCHL conference play as they host No. 8 Iowa State this weekend, entering a five-week test that sees them face half of the ACHA’s top 10 teams.

In the next five weeks of their homestand, the Illini will play consecutive weekends against No. 2 Arizona State, No. 7 Robert Morris (Ill.), No. 3 Lindenwood and No. 9 Ohio before finally getting a weekend off in early November.

This weekend’s series will see two high-scoring teams clash on the Big Pond. Illinois has scored 39 goals in six games (averaging 6.5 goals per game), while Iowa State has scored 45 (averaging 7.5 per game). The teams’ defenses are nearly even for goals allowed as well, with Iowa State at 12 goals in six games and Illinois at 15.

Illinois will also welcome back senior captains Austin Bostock and Mike Evans, who combined for 67 points last season.

Evans played two shifts in the third period of Saturday night’s game against Michigan State, but Bostock never dressed for either matchup — a decision Bostock said he made in order to get more practice time in before this weekend’s series against No. 8 Iowa State.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini compared the effect of the captains return to a pair of big free agency pickups.

“I mean, we’re talking about adding some of our best players and leaders,” Fabbrini said. “It’s right when we get into the teeth of our schedule, so the sooner we can get the both of those guys back up to speed again, the better.”

In their absence, sophomore John Olen and freshman Cody von Rueden have filled in offensively, leading the team in goals (5) while senior Eddie Quagliata has added a team-leading six assists.

Fabbrini praised Olen’s offensive consistency throughout the beginning of the season.

“He’s been our best player, if not one of our best players, for the past year now,” Fabbrini said. “It says a lot about him that he’s still scoring goals when pretty much every team knows he’s our main goal scorer.”

Last year, Olen led the team in goals (25) and points (48), and this season he tops both lists again in a three-way tie with von Rueden and Quagliata at 5 goals and 9 points.

Cyclones forward Jon Feavel led his team in points last season (40) and already has two goals and six assists in the 2013-14 campaign — a threat for the Illini to watch for early in each game. Feavel has scored half of his points during the first periods of Iowa State’s six games thus far.

On Saturday night against Michigan State, Illinois failed to set up in the offensive zone for the first seven minutes of the game before senior Kevin Chowaniec was finally able to put one in the net. Though the Illini have been able to pull away from teams late, as they did later that game when they added five goals in the third period, Fabbrini said he’s concerned with the early opportunities the Illini have left open for their opponents.

“We’ve been starting games flat lately and that’s something that’s got to change,” Fabbrini said. “Pretty much every game that we’ve played this year we’ve gone through a 10-15-minute stretch where we just don’t have it, and as we start playing better and better teams here, that margin for error is going to get smaller and smaller.”

Von Rueden said the team has taken notice to its slow starts over the past few games and has been talking about it in the locker room.

“It’s time to start (playing hard) all three periods instead of just showing up when we feel like it,” von Rueden said. “We like to support each other in the locker room, but it’s time to start really showing it on the ice.”

The defining month in the Illini hockey team’s schedule is about to begin.

No. 6 Illinois (6-0) will start CSCHL conference play as they host No. 8 Iowa State this weekend, entering a five-week test that sees them face half of the ACHA’s top 10 teams.

In the next five weeks of their homestand, the Illini will play consecutive weekends against No. 2 Arizona State, No. 7 Robert Morris (Ill.), No. 3 Lindenwood and No. 9 Ohio before finally getting a weekend off in early November.

This weekend’s series will see two high-scoring teams clash on the Big Pond. Illinois has scored 39 goals in six games (averaging 6.5 goals per game), while Iowa State has scored 45 (averaging 7.5 per game). The teams’ defenses are nearly even for goals allowed as well, with Iowa State at 12 goals in six games and Illinois at 15.

Illinois will also welcome back senior captains Austin Bostock and Mike Evans, who combined for 67 points last season.

Evans played two shifts in the third period of Saturday night’s game against Michigan State, but Bostock never dressed for either matchup — a decision Bostock said he made in order to get more practice time in before this weekend’s series against No. 8 Iowa State.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini compared the effect of the captains return to a pair of big free agency pickups.

“I mean, we’re talking about adding some of our best players and leaders,” Fabbrini said. “It’s right when we get into the teeth of our schedule, so the sooner we can get the both of those guys back up to speed again, the better.”

In their absence, sophomore John Olen and freshman Cody von Rueden have filled in offensively, leading the team in goals (5) while senior Eddie Quagliata has added a team-leading six assists.

Fabbrini praised Olen’s offensive consistency throughout the beginning of the season.

“He’s been our best player, if not one of our best players, for the past year now,” Fabbrini said. “It says a lot about him that he’s still scoring goals when pretty much every team knows he’s our main goal scorer.”

Last year, Olen led the team in goals (25) and points (48), and this season he tops both lists again in a three-way tie with von Rueden and Quagliata at 5 goals and 9 points.

Cyclones forward Jon Feavel led his team in points last season (40) and already has two goals and six assists in the 2013-14 campaign — a threat for the Illini to watch for early in each game. Feavel has scored half of his points during the first periods of Iowa State’s six games thus far.

On Saturday night against Michigan State, Illinois failed to set up in the offensive zone for the first seven minutes of the game before senior Kevin Chowaniec was finally able to put one in the net. Though the Illini have been able to pull away from teams late, as they did later that game when they added five goals in the third period, Fabbrini said he’s concerned with the early opportunities the Illini have left open for their opponents.

“We’ve been starting games flat lately and that’s something that’s got to change,” Fabbrini said. “Pretty much every game that we’ve played this year we’ve gone through a 10-15-minute stretch where we just don’t have it, and as we start playing better and better teams here, that margin for error is going to get smaller and smaller.”

Von Rueden said the team has taken notice to its slow starts over the past few games and has been talking about it in the locker room.

“It’s time to start (playing hard) all three periods instead of just showing up when we feel like it,” von Rueden said. “We like to support each other in the locker room, but it’s time to start really showing it on the ice.”

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