Illini feel at home this weekend against Arizona State

By Sean Neumann

Staff writer

The Illini hockey team plays 22 games in Champaign this season, but this weekend’s series in Chicago will feel the closest to home.

Twenty-seven of the 31 players on the Illini roster are from the Chicagoland area, and with over 87 percent of the players being able to sleep in their own beds this weekend, Fabbrini said the team should be well rested for their homecoming.

Senior John Scully said the weekend is exciting for the home-bound Illini, especially the chance to get revenge on an Arizona State team that knocked them out of the ACHA tournament last season.

“You’ve got a big team coming in and we still have a bad taste in our mouth from last year,” Scully said. “I think we learned our lesson from last weekend and hopefully we’ll come out and have a good weekend.”

The Illini are coming off a disappointing weekend, in which they were swept at home by conference rival Iowa State, but captain Austin Bostock said the team’s confidence is fine after an intense week of practice and conditioning.

“We’re ready to beat ASU both games this weekend,” Bostock said. “Everyone’s on the same page and we’re ready to go.”

Bostock said the losses to Iowa State have increased players’ intensity and they find themselves battling for the limited spots in the lineup.

“No one’s safe in the lineup,” Bostock said. “We’ve got such a talented group of guys that there’s going to be really talented guys sitting in the stands every week just because it’s so hard to crack our lineup.”

The pair of losses to Iowa State was the first time head coach Nick Fabbrini had been swept by the Cyclones in seven years as an Illini player and coach.

“Everybody’s pissed and that’s good,” Fabbrini said. “When channeled the right way, I think losing those two games can turn out to be a good thing for us.”

While Fabbrini agrees the players can’t dwell on the losses, he said they shouldn’t forget why and how they lost the games, either.

“It’s important to remember the feeling that we had after those games and hearing Iowa State singing their fight song in our rink,” Fabbrini said. “If that doesn’t make you angry and motivate you to change things, then I don’t know what will.”

Fabbrini hopes the Illini gather motivation from the losses and from the chance to play so close to home. But despite playing in front of family and friends, the Illini don’t have complete home-ice advantage.

Illinois is used to playing on the Big Pond’s 197-by-115 foot long sheet of ice — one of the biggest in the ACHA — but this weekend at Johnny’s Ice House, the Illini will play on an NHL regulation sized sheet of ice that’s 200-by-85 feet, an unfamiliar size for the players.

The Illini will have a chance to adjust to the rink on Friday morning during a skating session before the two games.

“It’s a very different game playing on a regulation size sheet,” Fabbrini said. “When we go out on the road, it’s such a big adjustment from what we’ve been practicing on for the last month.”

The opportunity to get acclimated to the ice before the game and being at home in a familiar environment are both things that will do nothing but help the team when they look to bounce back against Arizona State after the losses at home, according to Bostock.

Bostock said Illinois has to have a short memory when it comes to losses like last weekend’s to the Cyclones and that the best thing for the team to do is to look ahead to their next opponent.

“You think about it Saturday night, pissed about it Sunday, then you come ready to work on Monday,” Bostock said. “We can’t change it and we know we’re going to drop in the rankings, but the rankings don’t even matter until March. I hope ASU is No. 1 this weekend just so we can spank ‘em when they’re No. 1.”

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