Illini hockey misses opportunity to jump to second in CSCHL

Aaron Dusek takes a shot during the game against Indiana at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Nov. 6. Illinois won 5-2.

By Ethan Swanson

The Illini (11-6-3) missed an opportunity to make a major move in the conference standings playing an Eagles team (13-7-1) that was ranked last in the CSCHLRB.

Instead of notching four points toward the league with a series sweep and potential rising as high as second in the conference, Illinois barely squeaked away with two points with an overtime win Friday and loss Saturday to stay stagnant at second-to-last in conference and No. 24 in the ACHARB.

“Our losses aren’t a result of a lack of effort,” head coach Nick Fabbrini said. “We do a lot to make the game hard on ourselves: If we just stick to making the easy play, we’re a good hockey team. It’s hard to get the sweep, especially in conference play, but we needed these games.”

In Friday’s matchup, the Illini nearly gave up a two-goal lead. If not for forward James Mcging switching roles from assist-man to scorer, the Illini could have gone home winless.

Mcging opened up the series scoring Friday with a first period goal, and senior captain Joe Olen lit the lamp again for the Illini 12 minutes into the second period.

Going into the third period, the Illini defense looked stout, not giving up a single goal on five Eagle power play opportunities while goalie Joe Olen recorded 33 savesRB.

“Joe is one of the best goalies in the nation,” defenseman Austin Zima said. “It’s easy for our defense to play free and aggressive when we know we have a brick wall behind us.”

However, Robert Morris managed to rattle off two unanswered goals in the final period to send the game into overtime.

In the Illini’s sixth overtime period of the season, Mcging wasted no time calming Illini fans’ nerves as he scored the game-winning goal just 58 seconds into the overtime period to give Illinois the 3-2 winRB.

“Mcging is a big-time player and probably one of the best skaters in the country,” left-wing Eric Cruickshank said. “Usually he’s the one setting me up, so it was cool to see him take the shots for a change.”

On Saturday, it was Illinois that made a valiant comeback effort.

Robert Morris broke the floodgates open, rattling off 43 shots on goal on the Illini defense despite Illinois skaters registering under 15 minutes in the penalty box, giving the Eagles a 4-1 lead a minute into the third periodRB.

Cruickshank, the Illini point leader, led the charge for Illinois as he scored just minutes after the fourth Eagle goalRB.

Mcging managed to find the net for his third time over the weekend just eight minutes into final period play to bring the Illini within one score.

That would be the final goal scored in the game by either team, as the furious Illini comeback fell short and they left the arena with a 4-3 lossRB.

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