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Hockey opens season against Michigan State at home

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Hockey opens season against Michigan State at home

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

Elisabeth Neely

By Jared Farmer

The Illinois men’s club hockey team will kick off its season with a home opener at the Illinois Ice Arena against Michigan State this Friday and Saturday.

Last season was a roller coaster for the Illini. Despite starting the 2017-2018 campaign ranked No. 12 in the ACHA, the Illini climbed up to take the No. 5 spot after a strong regular season finish, 20-10-2. Illinois had its biggest win of the season at the ACHA Playoff’s “Frosty Four,” where it upset the No. 1-seeded Minot State. The Illini would go on to finish runner-up in the championship game against Adrian College.

The Illini had reestablished themselves as a premier club team in the country for the first time since head coach Nick Fabbrini’s playing days. Fabbrini is in his sixth season as head coach and gliding into the season off two consecutive playoff appearances. He was a finalist for the ACHA Coach of the Year Award in 2013 and 2018. During his time as an Illini hockey player, he won two national championships in 2005 and 2008.

But last year, the team was loaded with seniors, and after the season ended, eight players traded their skates and gear for caps and gowns.

After hosting tryouts earlier this month, the team now sports six new freshmen, who will make their debut this weekend. The new class features defenders Paul Prikos and Vince Avino; forwards Kacper Ryba, Michael Lenzi and Jackson Leptich; and goaltender Royce Allred.

“We had a big senior class, but I really feel like we brought in some guys that can come in and help us this year,” Fabbrini said. “Now, we’ve got a good mix of guys that, even though they’re not all seniors, are still veterans. We’ve got a lot of upperclassmen and guys that went through everything we went through last year, so I think that we’re in good shape to start the year.”

The Illini’s upcoming opponent, the Spartans, are making their season debut as well. Last year, Michigan State finished with a record just slightly under .500 (11-11-2). The Spartans have four new players: forwards Brendan O’Reilly and Noah DeGuzman; defender Daniel Mondrusov and right-wing  Ryan Hausman.

“Michigan State typically plays us pretty well,” Fabbrini said. “We’ve played them every single year since I’ve been coaching here, and so far, there hasn’t been a year where they didn’t give us a game that we had to grind out to win. We’re expecting for this weekend to be the same.”

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