Hockey finds stride against Sooners


Cruikshank handles the puck during the game against Oklahoma on Saturday.  It was the first of two wins against Oklahoma this weekend.

By Daniel Dexter

Despite missing its top goal scorer, the Illinois hockey team had no trouble finding the back of the net against Oklahoma over the weekend.

Illinois (19-13-1-0) got back to its winning ways with a weekend sweep of the Sooners (18-7-1-0) at the Illinois Ice Arena by scores of 4-2 and 5-4 on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Freshmen Eric Cruickshank and James Mcging bore the majority of the scoring load in the absence of leading scorer John Olen, who is on leave to play for Team USA at the World University Games.

The Sooners came into the matchup as the No. 6 team in the ACHA, but they were also missing their top two points leaders Jordan Greenberg and Bryce Johnson — who are also competing at the University Games.

Head coach Nick Fabbrini said the Sooners’ lack of fire power doesn’t take away from how well his team played. He said it was the first time all semester the Illini put in a full effort for an entire weekend. This has been an issue in the past for the team, most notably in the previous weekend, when Illinois allowed Robert Morris to jump to a 3-0 lead in the first period after defeating them the night before.

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“Any time you can win two games in a weekend, it’s a great weekend,” Fabbrini said. “It feels good to get this monkey off our back of playing great on Friday and then not necessarily following it up on Saturday.”

Illinois got out to a quick start Friday after right wing Kyle Varzino scored the opening goal about a minute into the game. After a scoreless second period, the Illini sealed their victory following a pair of goals from Cruickshank in the third period.

On Saturday, Oklahoma seemed to have an answer for every Illinois goal, tying the game with about 12 minutes left. Mcging, however, put the game away with his second score of the night on a tap-in power-play goal to give the Illini a comfortable two-goal lead. The Sooners cut into the lead 30 seconds later, but Illinois held them at bay the rest of the way to complete the sweep.

“We haven’t always responded the best when we have given up a couple of goals,” Fabbrini said. “Tonight, we didn’t get down. We had a firm belief in what we were doing and what we were hoping to accomplish. I think that helped keep our composure a little bit. We didn’t panic, even when they tied it late.”

The series sweep marks the Illini’s first sweep since sweeping Indiana Dec. 12-13. After the game, Mcging drew comparisons between the way the No. 6 Sooners and unranked Hoosiers played against them, which left him questioning Oklahoma’s high ranking.

“They played similar to the way Indiana did where they kind of just stood in the middle and tried to keep us on the outside,” Mcging said. “I think that was the wrong idea, and I was really unimpressed with their defense. Our team has a lot of play makers, and we love it when you give us time.”

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