Illinois looking to spark offense against Robert Morris

The Illini hockey team is looking for a couple of victories this weekend, but will need to make adjustments in the lineup first.

Illinois (4-3-1) will host No. 5 Robert Morris (6-0-1) this weekend in the team’s third consecutive weekend playing against a top 10 opponent. The puck will drop at 7:30 p.m. Friday night, the team’s usual start time, but Saturday’s game will instead take place at 2:00 p.m.

After two weekends of poor offensive production, head coach Nick Fabbrini said he will be looking to spark the team’s goal scorers by switching up offensive lines, especially on the power play, which was only able to score once in nine chances last weekend against No. 2 Arizona State.

The No. 7 Illini are also expected to drop in the ACHA national rankings when this week’s polls are released Friday afternoon, having yet to defeat a Division-I ACHA opponent in four tries.

Robert Morris has already beaten No. 8 Delaware, No. 18 John Carroll and No. 23 Niagara this season and are looking to add Illinois to the list of ranked teams they’ve defeated.

Fabbrini said he’s looking for consistency in the Illini’s play, whether it’s playing with the same intensity on every shift or simply finishing checks.

“There’s a difference between playing a physical game and playing dirty,” Fabbrini said. “We’re not a dirty team and we don’t want to be a dirty team. That style of play doesn’t suit us. We’re one of the smaller teams in the country, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be physical and finish all our checks.”

Senior John Scully said the team’s physical play dominated No. 2 Arizona State early in last Saturday’s game, until the Sun Devils scored and the Illini enforcers began to let up. The three Arizona State power play goals came from boarding, checking from behind and unsportsmanlike conduct calls — all instances of physical play taken too far in the referees’ eyes.

“The first five or 10 minutes were pretty good, and then there you go; take a penalty or two and they pop in two goals,” Scully said. “It’s tough to come back, especially when we’re not producing like that.”

Scully said when the Illini give away as many power play opportunities to a team as they did against Arizona State, the other team is bound to score goals.

“We put Arizona State on the power play a couple times, and they made us pay for it just about every time,” Scully said. “If we don’t give them those chances and we capitalize on ours, it might be a completely different weekend.”

Illinois’ physical play may be the key to opening up more opportunities to score a goal — something the Illini have only done once in their past three games and their most damaging issue at hand, having been shut out twice in their last three games.

“We have a lot of talent and a lot of guys who can score goals,” Fabbrini said. “We just need them to start doing it.”

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