Illini welcome Lions to the Big Pond
Illini to face Lindenwood for sencond meeting of the season.
Friday, December 01, 2017 / 4:32PM
Credit: Cristiano Simonetta


Illini Hockey is back home at the Big Pond this weekend, squaring off against the Lindenwood Lions in a pivotal CSCHL matchup. Illinois is ranked at No. 9 while the Lions sit comfortably at No. 3.  

Here are three Illini storylines to watch this weekend:

RITONDALE RETURNS

Senior captain Joey Ritondale will be back in the lineup after missing a pair of games due to an upper-body injury. The Elk Grove Village, Illinois native has put up 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 14 games so far this season. He is projected to shatter his career highs at the university this season in goals, assists and points. The 21-year-old defenseman also leads the club with a plus-11 rating.

Ritondale scored the game-winning-goal in the last meeting between Lindenwood and Illinois on October 28th. On the top pair, he’ll be reunited with his partner Joe Nolan and is expected to play over 24 minutes of ice time/game this weekend. Safe to say, his appearance against Lindenwood will be felt on and off the ice. 

WHAT THEY SAY: 

Head Coach Nick Fabbrini: “You cant quantify everything he does. Hes been a captain for two years and he does everything we ask of him. He plays the right way all the time and makes the simple play. The way he plays gets other guys going. When your best players are the guys who are finishing all their hits, blocking shots and doing the little things, thats a message to everybody."

Senior forward Eric Cruickshank: "Joe plays hard every game, every shift hes on the ice, hes giving it all he has. Thats something that carries on with the rest of the d-core. When they see Ritz in the corner battling with one of the six-foot-six guys on Lindenwood, you see a lot of heart. Just to get him back is huge for us and I think hes going to lead the way."

Senior defenseman Joey Caprio: “Ritz brings a lot of experience. Hes been here for four years. Hes the captain, he brings a presence in the locker room, keeps guys focused. When your captain is in the lineup, his impact is felt."

SPECIAL TEAMS BATTLE

In the CSCHL, every shift is crucial, whether it be at even-strength or on the power play/penalty kill. Mistakes are magnified while success is glorified. Both the Lions (90.3%) and the Illini (92.9%) boast PK successful units and prevented either club from scoring a PPG in their late October weekend series in Wentzville, Missouri. 

While Illinois’ power play found the back of the net against Davenport University (6-for-13 in two games versus the Panthers), they need to sharpen up against the division. The Illini are 3-for-16 with the man-advantage against CSCHL foes. While this may hint at a changing of personnel for on the special teams lines, barring an injury, Fabbrini is sticking with the same pieces to give his team the advantage in that regard.

WHAT THEY SAY: 

Fabbrini: “Weve talked a lot about simplifying things and getting back to outworking teams on the power play and not trying to force things. If we take whats given to us, usually were going to get good shots and with the amount of offensive talent we have, theyre going to start going in eventually."

Caprio: “The biggest thing is staying out of the box. Weve taken a lot of penalties away from our zone and limiting those will be key. Our penalty kill has been very good, blocking shots and getting pucks out. If we keep doing our thing when we do take penalties, we know were in a comfortable spot to kill them off.” 

NOVOSELS PROMOTION

In his freshman year at the university, Neil Novosel racked up six goals and seven assists in 25 games playing for Illinois’ ACHA DII club. Now a sophomore, Novosel is proving his worth at the DI level in bunches. He’s been solid on the penalty kill and at five-on-five due to his tenacity and willingness to win battles along the walls to jumpstart the cycle. 

So far this season, Novosel has lit the lamp four times and added three assists in 16 games. He is on a three-game goal-scoring streak and has five points (three goals, two assists) in his last trio of contests. After being elevated to a third-line role last month, he’ll be rewarded again this weekend. On Friday, he’ll skate on the top line with Grant Stueve and Eric Cruickshank.

WHAT THEY SAY: 

Fabbrini: “His production has been huge. Hes another guy who plays hard all the time and you know what youre going to get out of him. Hes been big for us the last few games especially. With David [Kellner] out again this weekend, hes a guy that were going to look at to fill some of that void."

Novosel: “Ive been a little more confident with the puck, just trying to make the most of the scoring chances I get. Im trying to do the right things, not trying to force anything offensively, but just being in the right place at the right time."

Friday and Saturday’s tilts against Lindenwood begin at 7 PM at the Big Pond in Champaign, Illinois. Saturday is Teddy Bear Toss Night, so be sure to bring stuffed animals and teddy bears to throw on the ice after the Illini’s first goal.

If you can’t catch the games live, the Illini Hockey Broadcasting Team will have the call on YouTube both nights. Follow the official Illini Hockey Facebook and Twitter pages for updates.