Illinois hockey tries to recover from the loss of Olen

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  • Left winger Jack Soneson takes a shot on goal during Illinois' 5-3 victory over Robert Morris at the Ice Arena on Saturday night.

    Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

  • The Fighting Illini hockey players salute their fans after beating Robert Morris 5-3 on Saturday at the Ice Arena.

    Tyler Courtney | The Daily Illin

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By Cole Henke

The Illinois hockey team was without its captain this weekend against Robert Morris.

Senior forward John Olen is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a broken ankle that he suffered against Alabama two weeks ago. Not having Olen on the ice was noticeably different for the Illini players.

Olen recorded two points in four games played with one goal and one assist. According to sophomore forward Eric Cruickshank, the Illini will miss his leadership on the ice even more than the numbers on the stat sheet.EJ

Unlike other sports, Olen does not sit on the bench with his team. He sits up in the stands with the other players that do not play, which keeps him from giving his teammates advice until in between periods rather than during the game.EJ

“He is one of our best players,” Cruickshank said. “Those are really big shoes to fill. It takes a full team effort to make up for a loss like that.”

As a forward, Olen left a vacuum on the offensive side of the puck. The loss was glaring in the first game against the Eagles — the Illini only scored one goal. But his teammates picked up the slack in the second game.

Cruickshank recorded a hat trick, sophomore Shaunak Pal scored his second goal of the season and junior center Josh Belmont scored his fifth goal of the season.

The CSCHL is up for grabsEJ

On paper, the CSCHL is the best conference in the ACHA this year. According to head coach Nick Fabbrini, it is perennially the best conference in the league.

All five teams are ranked in the top 15 of the conference, and so far the five have proven that those rankings are not flukes.

No. 1 Ohio University started conference play with two wins — one in regulation and one in overtime — but Lindenwood swept them in two games this past weekend. Lindenwood sits at the top of the conference with a 3-0-1 record.EJ

Illinois and Iowa State have played two fewer conference games than the other three teams. Iowa State is last in the conference with a 0-2-0 record.

According to Pal, Illinois (1-1-0- CSCHL) established itself with a split against Robert Morris this weekend.

“That win could not have come at a better time,” Pal said. “Especially with Ohio coming into our rink next weekend for homecoming. It gives us momentum for the weekend.”

Illinois sits in the middle of the conference, but with 14 more conference games left to play, there is plenty of time for anything to happen, according to Cruickshank.

“The CSCHL is wide open this year,” Cruickshank said. “Lindenwood sweeping top ranked Ohio proves that.”

Spreading the love on offense

The Illini have recorded 73 total points so far this season, but only two players have recorded 10 or more points.

Cruickshank has 11 points and sophomore James Mcging has 10 points. Besides those two outliers, there are 21 other players on the team with at least one point. Over all of last season 26 players had recorded one point for the Illini, and the Illini have only played 10 games so far this year.EJ

Cruickshank leads the team in goals with seven, while Mcging leads the team in assists with eight.

The dispersed offense has served the Illini well when dealing with early season injuries.

“We always need people to step up and fill in for injuries,” Cruickshank said. “Hockey is a team sport. There is never one player that can do it all for a whole game. We need 20 plus guys every game playing together.”

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