Illinois hockey splits on the road against Ohio


Illinois’ Jacob Matysiak attempts to control the puck during the hockey game vs. Robert Morris on Jan. 24. The Illini got off to an icy start on Friday due to the Bobcats’ smaller rink. “It did affect us because it was a much quicker game,” Matysiak said.

By Daniel Dexter

The Illinois hockey team came into Athens, Ohio, with hopes of a sweep over the weekend. That notion ended shortly into the first period of Friday’s game.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini has stressed the importance of getting off to a strong start, which Illinois has struggled with during the season.

After their first goal, the Bobcats of Ohio University scored two shorthanded goals, one off a breakaway and another off a slap shot from the blue line, which put the Illini behind 3-0.

Fabbrini said the team was embarrassed with the play early in the period. However, he was happy to see the Illini contain Ohio for the rest of the game and only surrender one more goal the rest of the way.

“We didn’t really give ourselves much of a chance to win, but after that, it was a 1-0 game,” Fabbrini said. “It was pretty much the worst start we could have had to the weekend.”

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Rink size affected the team’s play

One aspect that the Illini had trouble adjusting to was the size of Ohio’s rink.

Forwards Eric Saulters and Jacob Matysiak admitted that there is an adjustment period whenever they play at Ohio because of how much smaller the rink is.

While the Illinois Ice Arena has a rink that is larger than normal, Bird Arena is actually smaller than typical regulation size. As a result, Saulters said the game was more physical and mistakes were harder to overcome.

Matysiak added that after the first period Friday, the team got used to playing on the rink and came away with a victory Saturday.

“It did affect us because it was a much quicker game,” Matysiak said. “Even for guys who have played there for three years, it is hard to prepare yourself for that rink. That is what makes Ohio so tough to play at, and that’s why it was such a huge win on Saturday.”

Illinois overcomes road woes in Saturday win

Despite Friday’s loss, Fabbrini and the players considered this weekend to be a success because of how difficult it is to win on the road against Ohio.

Matysiak said Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win was a momentum swing in the Illini’s favor heading into the Central States Collegiate Hockey League tournament this weekend at the Illinois Ice Arena. It proved to him that Illinois can compete with all the teams in the league and defeat every team in the division.

Fabbrini believes Friday’s loss will be a good wake-up call for its preparation in road games. Even though the division games will be at home, the national tournament will be on the road and Illinois can’t take so long to adjust to a new environment.

“On the road, you have to prepare differently than you do at home,” Fabbrini said. “You aren’t sleeping in your own bed and your routine is not the same as what you would do on a home gameday. We are kind of a young team, so I think we are still learning that lesson of how important it is to prepare mentally for a game.”

Daniel can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ddexter23.