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Illinois hockey’s talented youth and defense sweep Spartans

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Illinois hockey’s talented youth and defense sweep Spartans

Illinois' Joe Olen (31) deflects a shot away from the goal during round one of the CSCHL hockey tournament v. Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. Illinois won 2-1.

Illinois' Joe Olen (31) deflects a shot away from the goal during round one of the CSCHL hockey tournament v. Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. Illinois won 2-1.

Kevin Vongnaphone | Senior photo

Illinois' Joe Olen (31) deflects a shot away from the goal during round one of the CSCHL hockey tournament v. Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. Illinois won 2-1.

Kevin Vongnaphone | Senior photo

Kevin Vongnaphone | Senior photo

Illinois' Joe Olen (31) deflects a shot away from the goal during round one of the CSCHL hockey tournament v. Iowa State at the Ice Arena on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. Illinois won 2-1.

By Ethan Swanson

Head Illinois hockey coach Nick Fabbrini describes his team using many different adjectives — fast, resilient, talented — but the word “experienced” is not necessarily in that mix.

Of the 27 players on the Illini’s active roster, 15 are either a sophomore or freshman, and only five of the remaining 12 are seniors.

“We had a lot come back this season, but most of that talent is young,” Fabbrini said. “We graduated four guys last year, all of which played a big role for us. We feel that the guys that we have here along with the ones we have coming in are ready to fill those roles for us.”

Last weekend, Illinois’ youth accounted for nearly all of the team’s offensive output.

Illini sophomores managed to score six of the team’s 10 goals over the weekend, including three by left wing Eric Cruickshank — arguably Illinois’ most potent offensive threat, who lead the team with 32 total points last season.

“Eric works hard every shift,” fellow sophomore Mike Fischer said. “He never stops moving his feet. Great player and leader on the ice and in the locker room.”

Doing it With Defense

Prior to Illinois’ two-game series with Michigan State, the Illini were trounced by the Springfield Jr. Blues, giving up 13 goals over two games on the road.

Over the weekend, however, Illini defensemen were the highlight of the series.

Illinois’ suddenly stingy defensive line gave up only two goals in the two games against MSU, none of which came in the second period or later.

“We played a little bit of a different system on our ice this weekend,” Fabbrini said. “Our guys are more comfortable with man-to-man rather than the zone-style defense we tried to play on a smaller rink last weekend. I thought we did a great job of limiting (Michigan State’s) time and space.”

This is something we can build off of,” Cruickshank added. “It showed our character.”

Three Goalies, One Net

Another wrinkle in Illinois’ defense came in Saturday’s game when the Illini’s starting goaltender from the night before, Joe Olen, stayed on the bench during pre-game warm-ups after producing 20 saves in a 6-0 shut-out win.

Instead, Zev Grumet-Morris stood between the posts for the Illini — a move Fabbrini said will be a common occurrence all season.

“We have three good goaltenders, and they’ve all earned the right to play,” Fabbrini said. “It’s my challenge to figure out how to get all three in on a regular basis, but up until the end of the year, I wouldn’t expect any goalie to play back-to-back games.”

If Fabbrini stays true to his word, Illini fans should expect goaltender David Heflin to get the start in net next weekend in a series against Oklahoma.

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@EthanSwanson88

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