Pair of hat tricks and defense lead Illini into CSCHL tournament


Austin Yattoni

James McGing carries the puck down the ice during the game against Illinois State at the Ice Arena on February 12. The Illini won 5-2.

By Ethan Swanson

Illinois hockey’s dismantling of Illinois State this weekend was due in large part to a suddenly stingy Illini defense — a statement that could not be said in prior weeks, especially regarding an Illinois defense that gave up 13 goals over two games to Ohio University Feb. 5-6.EJ

In Saturday’s 6-1 win, the Illini shut down the Redbirds in every man-down situation.EJ

Illinois’ defense barely allowed Illinois State any shots on goal, requiring backup goalie Zev Grumet-Morris to only make 17 saves in the team’s 5-2 victory Friday and allowing third-string goalie David Heflin to only face 24 shots total Saturday.

The Illini’s defense acted as a catalyst for Illinois’ forwards and centers, forcing multiple turnovers near center ice that resulted in four breakaway opportunities — two of which were converted by sophomore forward James McGing.EJ

“We worked a lot on shot-blocking goals drills in practice last week,” McGing said. “We blocked a lot of shots near our blue line and that created a lot of turnovers that resulted in fast breaks. Both my breakaways were off shot blocks.”

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    Pair of hat tricks

    Witnessing a hat trick is a rarity for any fan base, but Illini fans were lucky enough to see two in one weekend.

    Senior captain John Olen has been a leader all season for the Illini.EJ

    Olen scored three of the Illini’s five goals and added an assist Friday for the first hat trick of the Illini’s season. Despite missing nearly two months due to a broken ankle, Olen has been able to rack up 20 points this season – ranking No. 4 on the team.EJ

    For an encore, McGing had his own hat trick the following night, a feat that featured two breakaway goals that froze the Redbird goalie. McGing also scored a goal in Friday’s game, contributing to yet another monster weekend — and season — for the sophomore.

    McGing’s 48 points ranks No. 1 on the Illinois roster, No.1 in the CSCHL and No. 15 in the ACHA.

    “When we’re getting good looks at the net, it’s just a matter of time before our talent takes over,” head coach Nick Fabbrini said. EJ“If we can just keep playing simple and getting pucks and bodies to the net, we’ll be in good shape.”

    Survive and advance

    The road to a CSCHL tournament championship starts this Friday for the Illini with a No. 4–No. 5 matchup with Robert Morris University in Ames, Iowa.EJ

    The Illini are 2-2 against the Eagles this season, splitting each two-game series.EJ

    The two teams have not faced each other in nearly three months. Since then the Illini have gotten healthier and now have a first line that features a duo that produced seven goals and two assists over the weekend.

    The winner of Friday’s game will face CSCHL-leading Lindenwood University the following day.EJ

    “(Robert Morris) has a very good power play and a lot of skilled guys who can move the puck around,” McGing said. “We haven’t seen them in a long time, but I think we match up well with them.”

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