With John Olen out, brother Joe and Co. step up for Illini hockey

Defenseman Austin Zima fires a shot on goal during the game against Ohio University at the Ice Arena on Saturday, October 24. Illinois lost 2-3 in the shootout.

By Ethan Swanson

Last weekend, however, little brother Joe was the Olen that shined.

Last Friday, Joe recorded 42 saves against a Bobcat team that boasted a plus-58 goal differential and five players with double-digit points on the season before coming to Illinois Ice Arena. Saturday, Olen allowed only two goals on 46 Ohio while not allowing a goal in third period or overtime.

At the beginning of the season, Illinois seemed committed to rotating between all three of the goalies on their roster, but now Olen seems to have solidified himself as the Illini’s permanent starter with a .952 save percentage and over 417 minutes played this season.

“He’s our guy,” defenseman Austin Zima said. “When he’s on the ice, it puts some energy in our skates and gives both the offense and defense that confidence to let loose.”

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Potent Power Play

A big part of the Illini’s success last weekend and throughout the season has been their ability to score in man-up situations while killing their opponent’s power play opportunities.

Three of Illinois’ four total goals last weekend came on a power play, giving them eight for the season. The Illini have also killed 82.05 percent of opponents’ power plays this season, during 39 total minutes of being shorthanded.

“Coach Fabbrini is constantly preaching the importance of special teams,” Zima said. “With guys who can score in every position, our philosophy is to keep things simple, move the puck and create a flurry of shots on the opposing goalie.”

“A”s Exceling

With senior John Olen out for roughly a month with a broken ankle, the Illini have had to look for leadership amongst the younger ranks of the roster.

In Olen’s absence, the two Illinois skaters with “A”s on their jerseys – Zima and sophomore Eric Cruickshank – have proven why they earned the alternate captain patch in the offseason.

As a defensemen, Zima is third on the team in points with seven and recorded his third goal of the season last Friday in the third period to ice the game for the Illini.

Cruickshank is tied for the team lead in points at 13 and is averaging a goal per game. His pair of scores in Saturday’s matchup with Ohio sent the game to overtime, giving the Illini a point in the league standings.

“There’s a lot more to be said about leadership on this team then the guys with letters on their jerseys,” Cruickshank said. “Whether it’s selling out to block a puck or scoring goals, it falls back on all of us to help this team.”

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