Illini host Oklahoma at Big Pond on Friday
The Illinois hockey team isn’t panicking in the midst of a slump in Saturday games that has plagued the team the past two months.
In the past six weekends, the Illini have dropped six games, losing five of them on Saturday. No. 6 Illinois (12-5-2) will have a prime opportunity to break out of its slump when No. 8 Oklahoma (10-7-1) comes to town for a series at the Big Pond. The meeting will be only the eighth in the teams’ histories, the last coming at the 2009 ACHA national tournament, which the Illini won 3-2.
“I think we tend to relax a little bit on Saturdays,” head coach Nick Fabbrini said. “We don’t seem to have the same intensity on Saturday as we do on Friday.”
Fabbrini said the team’s Saturday struggles are because of a lack of mental preparation. Opposing teams aren’t beating the Illini, he said; the team is beating itself, he said. A lack of effort on offense, Fabbrini continued, has led to only eight goals in the team’s last five defeats.
Both teams are coming off big losses, as Illinois took its worst defeat of the year against Ohio last weekend 7-1. Oklahoma dropped three straight last week to Arizona and Arizona State, as they were outscored 15-3.
“Saturday was just a microcosm of all the other Saturdays we’ve had all season,” Fabbrini said. “The only difference between this Saturday (against Ohio) and the others was that (junior goaltender) Nick Clarke wasn’t able to bail us out.”
Leading the Sooners’ plethora of forwards is freshman Jordan Greenberg, who is recording over a point per game this season with 21 points in only 18 matches. Following the talented freshman is sophomore Darrell Boldon and senior Chad Hudson, who each have 16 points this year. The Illini will have to game plan around all three multifaceted forwards to avoid a home upset.
“(Oklahoma) is pretty much the same team every year,” Fabbrini said. “They’re going to be one of the more talented teams we’ll play all year. We’re going to need to be ready to play.”
Often-injured sophomore forward Derek Schultz is a game-time decision for Illinois. Schultz is battling a nagging foot injury.
Fabbrini has also decided to move senior forward Chad Himley to the blue line to bolster a defense that has struggled often this year.Fabbrini said Himley’s skills suit that of a defenseman and will allow for more time on the ice.
“It’s going to keep him out of the real physical areas of the game,” he said. “I don’t think (forward position) is really where he excels. He excels when he’s able to use his skill and skating ability to make plays, and I think he’ll be able to do that for us on the defensive end because we really need some help back there.”
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