Illinois’ offense steps up to sweep Rochester College


Austin Yattoni | The Daily Illin

Illinois’ James Mcging (13) looks for an open pass during the game against Western Michigan University at the Ice Arena on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Illinois won 4-3.

By Ethan Swanson

Tweet: .@IlliniHockey gets first sweep of 2016 behind an impressive offensive display

Illinois hockey had no problem finding the back of the net in last weekend’s sweep of Rochester College — notching 6-3 and 5-2 wins, respectivelyRB.

With top-tier scorers like sophomores Eric Cruickshank and James Mcging and reigning 2014-15 team point leader John Olen, Illini fans are no strangers to impressive offensive displays. But last week’s performance was an anomaly even for Illinois.

Before last weekend, Illinois has only scored more than 10 goals in a two-game series once this season, when it netted 13 goals on an Alabama teamRB in its rookie season as an ACHA Division I program. The Illini managed to rattle off 67 shots on goal between the two games against the WarriorsRB, including 38 on Saturday — nearly 10 more shots than the team’s per-game averageRB.

Illinois never trailed Rochester, and addressed its season-long problem of starting sluggish and letting teams back into games late by accumulating 10 goals in the first and third periods of the two gamesRB.

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    “All of our goals came off simple plays with some traffic in front of the net,” said head coach Nick Fabbrini. “That’s been a consistent theme to our success this season and something we especially stressed this week. When you get bodies moving towards the net, the puck usually gets there too.”

    New leader

    The Illini’s offensive prowess last weekend was due in large part to the dishes and dimes handed out by Mcging on Illinois’ potent first line.

    The sophomore forward had a big weekend, registering four assistsRB and three goalsRB in the two games against Rochester. Those seven points catapulted Mcging four points past Cruickshank to claim the team lead with 36RB.

    Mcging has been the go-to setup man for the Illini all season. With 25 assistsRB, he leads the category by 11RB over the next closest Illinois skater, and his 11 goals are good for second on the team behind Cruickshank’s 19RB.

    Mcging’s 36 points ranks 29th in the ACHA.

    “He’s one of the best skaters in the league,” Cruickshank said. “He can get you the puck even when you think that there’s no way possible.”

    Depth in net

    Illinois’ No. 1 goalie has had a stellar season. His 2.19 goals-per-game average, 602 saves and .938 save percentage RBall rank in the top-16 among ACHA goaltendersRB.

    So when Joe Olen took this weekend off in order to rest for a home series with bigger implications against CSCHL leader Lindenwood UniversityRB, there were big skates to fill.

    When Illini backup goalie Zev Grumet-Morris was between the pipes last weekend, the only thing that seemed to differ from Olen was the number on the back of the jersey.

    Grumet-Morris recorded 39 saves on 44 total shots by the WarriorsRB, and anchored an Illini defense that was perfect on penalty kills over the two games despite giving up six power plays in Saturday’s game aloneRB.

    The junior goalie improved his record to 3-2 on the season, while bringing his save total to 121 and his save percentage to .858RB.

    “Zev was huge for us,” Fabbrini said. “He made some huge breakaway saves and some other big ones early to give us an opportunity to score first, something we hadn’t done in close to 10 games.”

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