Illini take on Davenport
The Illini and Panthers will take over Chicago this weekend for a pair of games.
Friday, November 17, 2017 / 6:53am
Credit: Cristiano Simonetta

After splitting last weekend’s series with the Ohio Bobcats (12-3-1), the University of Illinois Fighting Illini (10-3-1) find themselves back in the ACHA’s top ten. Illinois jumped up from No. 11 to No. 9, thanks to a seven-goal outburst on Saturday in a 7-1 win after dropping Friday’s contest in regulation 4-0.

It was a well-needed effort from an Illini team who was struggling to string together division points, as of late. They had lost three straight CSCHL games at home in regulation for the first time in head coach Nick Fabbrini’s tenure (since September of 2012). The Illini bench boss said Saturday’s response signaled how good this club can be when they work together as a cohesive unit for sixty minutes. 

“We did some really good things,” Fabbrini said. “We came out and played harder then them, faster than them.”

While the Illini move away from divisional play this weekend, they face another challenge in the No. 17 Davenport University Panthers (6-7-0). This weekend’s games will take place on neutral territory as both teams hit the road.

They will face off at Johnny’s IceHouse West in Chicago on Friday at 8:00 P.M. and at Oak Lawn Ice Arena on Saturday at 4:00 P.M. No matter the setting, Davenport serves as a formidable foe for the Illini. The Panthers swept Oakland University in a pair of games last weekend and have won three out of their last five.

“They’re going to be good, we’ve got to make sure we’re up and ready for it,” Sophomore center Chance Homerin said. "We’re a top team in this league so we have to prove ourselves against these top twenty teams.” 

Homerin will return to the lineup after missing last weekend’s series due to an illness.  David Kellner remains out with a lower-body injury, but another familiar face could be watching from the stands come Friday for the team in orange and blue.

Senior captain Joey Ritondale (upper body) was not taking contact in practice on Wednesday, but was upgraded to a game-time decision on Thursday. If No. 2 fails to suit up on Friday, Homerin was adamant in mentioning who needs to raise their game to make up for Ritondale’s possible absence. 

“Everyone is going to have to step up to fill the captain’s void,” Homerin said. “He’s a big guy in the locker room, a big guy on the ice. He doesn’t make any mistakes, if any.”

An element that Ritondale specializes in is the penalty kill, which is operating at a 94-percent success rate (first in the CSCHL). So far, the shorthanded units for Illinois have allowed a mere three goals in 50 chances. 

Fabbrini has had the luxury of tossing out powerful point-producers like Bobby Ernsting and James McGing on the first grouping to force turnovers. But, the emergence of bottom-six forwards like sophomores Evan Sabo and Neil Novosel can’t go unnoticed, either. 

“We’re definitely not trying to anything special, just keeping it simple,” Novosel said. "Faceoffs are big, especially on the PK. We’re going in there and not trying to be fancy. Just get the job done and move on.”

Novosel points out special teams will be one of the focuses this weekend for the Illini. Illinois is trying to find their groove on the power play as they’ve struggled over the past three games (2-for-16). The Panthers’ PK comes into the weekend with a 65-percent efficiency.

Something’s gotta give.

Friday’s game will be broadcasted by the Illini Hockey Broadcasting Team live on their YouTube channel. Follow the team’s official Facebook and Twitter for updates.