Illini struggle as they get swept by Robert Morris

The Illini’s losing streak extended to six losses after falling to the Robert Morris Eagles twice this past weekend.

Goal scoring was Illinois’ main issue. They were shut out 3-0 on Friday night and managed just one goal in the last three minutes of Saturday’s matchup against Robert Morris.

“I thought the power play looked good, but obviously on the score sheet it was awful,” senior captain Austin Bostock said. “I think it just comes to getting the right shots and getting those goals. They’re going to be there, we had chances.”

The chances were certainly there, as the Illini had a total of seven power play opportunities over the weekend, but they just couldn’t find a way to get the puck past the Eagles defense and into the net.

The Illini also allowed Robert Morris to score early in both games, which is a concern of head coach Nick Fabbrini.

“That’s seven or eight games in a row we’ve given up the first goal,” Fabbrini said. “We’ve talked about it, it’s been a concern all year, and things haven’t changed. It’s killing us.”

The Illini found themselves in a hole early Friday night as Robert Morris forward Derek Winkler scored the first goal of the game just 24 seconds after the initial puck drop. They rode that early momentum to secure a 3-0 victory.

“It got them going,” Fabbrini said of the Eagles’ early goal. “It got them excited and it got them into the game right away.”

The rivalry between the two teams was apparent during Saturday’s game with several scuffles and constant exchanging of words.

“All these guys knew each other growing up, we have a lot of Chicago area guys, too,” Fabbrini said. “I think it’s just a genuine dislike between the teams.”

Illinois matched Robert Morris’ physicality, but couldn’t keep up with RMC’s goal scoring. The Eagles scored two goals in each of the first two periods of Saturday’s game, leading to senior goalie Nick Clarke being taken out of the game for the third.

“We were just leaving Clarke out there to dry,” Fabbrini said. “He played great for us both games. He’s just not getting very much help.”

Sophomore goaltender Joe Olen played well, giving up just one goal in the third period, and Bostock was able to end the offensive dry spell with a goal in the final minutes of the game. But it was too little too late, as Robert Morris came away with a 5-1 victory.

Fabbrini has emphasized simplifying the game and doesn’t want his guys to look for the pretty plays. After Saturday’s defeat, he was almost at a loss of words.

“I don’t even know anymore,” he said. “Hopefully we’re going to get some guys back in the lineup. Hopefully (Matt) Johnson will be back and ready to go here sometime soon, and maybe that’ll give us a little bit of a spark. We need to find some kind of spark somewhere.”

The Illini will have a long week of practice to correct their mistakes before facing off against Lindenwood, another ACHA Division-I opponent, this weekend. 

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