Illini swept by Iowa State in top-10 matchup

The No. 4 Illini hockey team is expected to fall a few spots in the ACHA national rankings following back-to-back losses against No. 8 Iowa State.

Illinois opened up CSCHL conference play this past weekend with what head coach Nick Fabbrini called an “embarrassing” performance, losing 4-3 in a shootout Friday night and then being shut out 3-0 on Saturday.

“We had no intensity and didn’t play with very much heart,” Fabbrini said after Saturday’s loss. “They just came in and took it from us, and we let them.”

Captain Austin Bostock and assistant captain Mike Evans briefly enjoyed moments when they each scored in their first game back after shoulder injuries Friday night, but Bostock said the losses to a bitter conference rival are what will stick out most in his memory.

“I hate Iowa State,” Bostock said. “Iowa State’s always a good team, and they stole one from here at home. That’s the best way to put it: They stole one from us, and we gave it to them.”

Fabbrini cited the Illini penalty kill as a major factor in the team’s two losses, allowing the Cyclones to score three power play goals throughout the two games as well as having two additional power play goals waved off by referees.

Evans said the Illini defense planned to up their physicality coming into the rivalry games but didn’t completely set the tone they hoped for early on.

“We expected this team to be physical, and we tried to be physical ourselves,” Evans said. “We saw flashes of it, but it really wasn’t up to our standards.”

Saturday night, Iowa State winger Mike Leskun scored the game-winning goal on the power play after Illini senior John Scully went to the box for elbowing midway through the first. Leskun’s first period goal was enough to put away the Illini, who failed to score on just 20 shots — nearly half as many as the team has averaged per game against other universities in the first three weekends of the season (38.8 shots per game).

Illinois failed to get the puck past Cooper the entire 60 minutes and showed little offensive threat until finally squeaking out nine shots in the third. Three of those shots came on a five-on-four power play opportunity just four minutes into the period, but all three Illini shots were tossed straight into Cooper’s chest for easy saves.

Iowa State scored shorthanded on the same Illini power play, after freshman Cody von Rueden made an uncharacteristic mistake, pinching in on a loose puck in the neutral zone to allow Cyclone senior Jonathon Feavel to skate by the defense and score the first of his two goals Saturday night.

Illinois failed to score on two separate five-on-three power play opportunities throughout the weekend. They also failed to convert any goals on a five-minute major penalty Saturday night during which Cooper was in the penalty box, forcing backup Cyclones’ goaltender Scott Ismond to come in net.

“It’s guys that were on the penalty kill last year and should know what they’re doing, but it’s like they’ve never done it before,” Fabbrini said. “We have a lot of things we need to correct in the next couple of days here before Arizona State.”

Fabbrini said he hopes the Illini players take the two losses as a rude awakening for what to expect over the next month and a half, playing No. 2 Arizona State, No. 5 Lindenwood, No. 7 Robert Morris (Ill.) and No. 10 Ohio, before facing No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 11 Central Oklahoma on the road in late November.

“There’s a lot to learn from losing, especially the way we did this weekend,” Fabbrini said. “ A lot of it for us just comes down to effort. When we’re willing to pay the price and play the way that we want to play, we’re a tough team to beat, but we’re a pretty average team when we don’t.”

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