Olen’s return comes just in time to face No. 2 Iowa State

By Ethan Swanson

For the first time in over a month, when Illinois (9-3-2) takes its home ice Friday night against CSCHL opponent No. 3 Iowa State (13-2-2), both Olen brothers will be wearing skates for the Illini.

After suffering a broken ankle in the Illini’s neutral-site series with Alabama Oct. 2-3, John Olen, the senior captain and last season’s point leader has had to watch his team suffer through inconsistent play: shutting out top-five Ohio one week, then getting blown out by a mediocre Illinois State team the next.

Doctors cleared him last Friday, and Olen’s timing couldn’t be much better with one of the top teams in the ACHA coming to Champaign this weekend.

“The ankle is completely healed,” Olen said. “It’s still going to be a bit of a feeler period, (I’m) just getting muscle memory back, but I’m excited to return. Any spark I can give this weekend is going to help us out.”

“He’s going to go until he says he can’t,” said head coach Nick Fabbrini. “He’s one of the best scorers in the league. He’s going to be a huge boost.”

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Olen’s return solves one of the Illini’s major problems this season: scoring depth.

Illinois’ first line of Eric Cruickshank, James Mcging and Grant Stueve has been stellar this season. Each are in the top four in points on the team, with Mcging leading the team in assists with 15 and Cruickshank leading the Illini in goals with 11.

Fabbrini plans to feature Olen on the second line with Illini veterans Shaunak Pal and Josh Belmont, solidifying a secondary wave of scorers.

“I’ve played with both before, they’re two great players,” Olen said. It’ll be a transition, but putting me at the wing gives me lots of mobility to ease back with my ankle.”

Iowa State is definitely not the best team for the Illini to ease into game action against.

The Cyclones have scored nearly 100 goals through 17 games with a +67 goal differential and 2-0 road record. Iowa State’s top three point leaders all rank in the top 35 in ACHA scoring, and the team is currently tied for first in the CSCHL with Lindenwood University.

“From what I’ve heard, they’re very different this year than what they’ve been in the past,” Fabbrini said. “They’re a very defensive team, and have a lot of one-goal games. We expect them to be quite a bit better than they were last season.”

The Illini have found recent success against the Cyclones at home, winning all three games against Iowa State at the Ilinois Ice Arena last season. In those three games, Illinois’ starting goaltender Joe Olen allowed only one goal per game with a combined 93 saves.

Beating the Cyclones would be a big boost for an Illini team ranked fourth in the CSCHL standings, and with two Olen’s now in the lineup, Illinois feels confident it can begin its ascent up the conference and ACHA standings.

“We’re a much different team when we’re fully healthy,” Fabbrini said. “And we’re starting to get there.”

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